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IWM's Battle of the Somme put on UNESCO's

28 July 2005

On the eve of the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, the historic 1916 silent documentary film The Battle of the Somme, held in the Film and Video Archive of the Imperial War Museum, is one of 29 documentary collections from 24 countries that have recently been inscribed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)’s ‘Memory of the World’ Register. The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, approved the inscriptions, which were recommended by the 14-member International Advisory Committee of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme following its recent meeting in Lijiang (China).

‘Memory of the World’ is a programme established by UNESCO to raise awareness of the planet’s rich and diverse documentary heritage, and to encourage its preservation. The most visible face of the project is a register of recognised documents and documentary collections. The latest round of additions brings to 120 the total number of inscriptions on the register.

The film The Battle of the Somme, long recognised as one of the most important items in the Imperial War Museum’s Film and Video Archive, is the first “document” of any kind to have been proposed to ‘Memory of the World’ by a British archive, and one of the few films that has so far been added to the register.

In nominating The Battle of the Somme, the Imperial War Museum emphasised the film’s importance both as a visual record of the events surrounding the opening of the Battle and as the medium by which the contemporary civilian populations in Britain and overseas felt they were at last able to see the reality of trench warfare. The Battle of the Somme continues to play the same role for modern television viewers, as the source of many of the most familiar and iconic images used in programmes and series evoking the First World War.

Roger Smither, Keeper of the Museum’s Film and Photograph Archives added: ‘The film also has significance as a landmark in the development of propaganda technique, as a focus for discussion of many aspects of the ethics of news or documentary filming, and as one of the impulses behind the Imperial War Museum’s own development as one of the world’s first film archives.’

Professor Peter Simkins, one of almost 30 academics, film archivists, film makers and writers from Britain and around the world who endorsed the Imperial War Museum’s application to have the film added to the Register said: ‘From a British, and Commonwealth, viewpoint, the 1916 Somme offensive was the first major battle fought by the British Empire’s first-ever mass citizen army. In numerical terms, the casualties suffered by the British and Dominion forces on the Somme were the highest incurred in any single battle, and British losses on the first day alone (1 July 1916) were the worst ever suffered by the British Army in a single day in its entire history (57,470 casualties, including 19,240 dead and 35,493 wounded). The British Army on the Western Front in July 1916 was also still a volunteer army and, moreover, it was notable for the strong local links which most of its formations had with towns, cities and rural areas at home. Scarcely a family … was therefore left untouched by the battle which, as a result, occupies a unique place in our collective folk memory as well as leaving a permanent scar on our collective psyche.’

2006 is the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, and the Imperial War Museum is planning many events to mark the occasion. A special exhibition will open in April, and will be accompanied by a full programme of supporting activities and publications. Among the events, the Museum will arrange a gala screening of the film Battle of the Somme accompanied by a new orchestral score by Laura Rossi, a young composer with a growing reputation in the field of film music, whose score will also feature in a new DVD release.

For press information and images contact Laura McKechan,
Imperial War Museum London, Tel: 020 7416 5311, Email:

Notes to Editors:

UNESCO’s own press release “Twenty-nine new documentary collections inscribed on the Memory of the World Register” (21-06-2005) can be found at

The pages of the UNESCO website explaining the history, purpose and other details of the ‘Memory of the World’ programme open at

The full text of the Imperial War Museum’s submission on behalf of The Battle of the Somme, including the endorsements referred to above, can be read at

Details about the Imperial War Museum and its collections, and its activities across all its sites, can be found on the Museum’s website, at

Roger Smither can be contacted by telephone on 020 7416 5290, or by email at

Laura McKechan
Press Officer
Imperial War Museum
Lambeth Road
Tel: 020 7416 5311
Fax: 020 7416 5396