Australian Screen

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Australia in France, Part One (c.1918)

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clip Rehearsing for war

This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

The Australian Prime Minister, Mr WM Hughes, poses for the camera with General Sir William Birdwood, commander of the Australian forces in France, in mid-1916. Mr Hughes is accompanied by the Australian High Commissioner to Great Britain, Andrew Fisher, a former Australian prime minister. Australian troops have recently arrived in France from the Middle East, but most of them have yet to see action on the Western Front. While at rest, they build practice trenches using sandbags. At a trench training range, they rehearse for the coming attacks, using smoke bombs for cover. Near Armentières, West Australians of the 11th Battalion march up on duckboards, laid to traverse the mud.

Curator’s notes

These scenes are an exact match for what appear to be detailed plans for a film, written by the Australian war correspondent Charles Bean, in his Diary No. 69 (AWM38-3DRL606-69-1), from January 1917. On page five of that diary under the heading ‘Bits of Australian film’, and a title With the Anzacs, twice underlined, the first three scenes are listed as:

  • Hughes and Birdwood
  • Trench making (sham)
  • Smoke attack (short)
  • 11 Bn working party.

Bean’s plans for this film go on to mention scenes showing wounded at Estaires, 1st Casualty Clearing Station, nurses tending the wounded in a ward, and a tree-felling competition in a forest, attended by General Birdwood. This was between troops from Australia, New Zealand and Canada and was won by Maoris. The plans also detail a religious service attended by troops from a motor transport unit, and men eating dinner rations in their billets. All of these shots are in this film, if not in the exact order of the plan on page five.

Many of the shots are also in another film held at the Australian War Memorial, entitled With the Australians in France 1916 (AWM F00050). The question is, which of these films more closely follows Charles Bean’s original plans? We know from entries later in his diaries that the original film was either lost or badly botched in London in 1917, after Bean had spent considerable time editing and titling the material at the office of Sir William Jury, during his leave. When he saw the completed film a year later, Bean was incensed. He notes in his February 1918 diary that he intends to reconstruct the film. Australia in France, Part One (AWM F0047) is likely to be that reconstruction (see main notes).

His Diary 69, on page five, lists the final shots in this clip as being a working party of the 11th Battalion. The titles do not say which battalion we are looking at, but we know that this is the 11th Battalion, because of the photograph held by the Australian War Memorial (EZ0047). The men in this footage match exactly the men in the photograph (see clip one, With the Australians in France 1916). The same shot in the other film labels these men as West Australians, which is where most of the 11th Battalion was recruited. The location of these shots is thought to be beside a light railway near Armentières. On page three of that diary, Bean lists certain shots he wanted to use. One of these lists ‘Men in trenches near Armentières’, and beneath that ‘working party etc’. He notes that they were shot by EG Tong, a British cameraman. Tong also filmed the visit of the prime minister, Mr Hughes, seen here.

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