Socialist Worker

Books, music and films about the Somme

Socialist Worker recommends books, music and films about the battle and the experience of the First World War

Issue No. 2007

Kirk Douglas in Paths of Glory

Kirk Douglas in Paths of Glory

Sebastian Faulks

Set before and during the First World War, Birdsong is the story of Stephen, a young Englishman, who arrives in Amiens in 1910. His life goes through a number of traumatic experiences, from a love affair that tears apart the family he lives with, to the brutality of the war itself.

War Requiem
Benjamin Britten

Britten composed this requiem which combines the Latin Mass for the Dead with nine poems by the British war poet Wilfred Owen. It is a public statement of Britten’s anti-war convictions and a denunciation of war.

The Trench Experience
at the Imperial War Museum

This is one of the main sections of the London Imperial War Museum’s First World War exhibition. It is a walk-through re-creation of a front line trench on the Somme in the autumn of 1916. It is brought to life with special lighting, sound and smell effects. Go to

All Quiet on the Western Front
Erich Maria Remarque

This classic anti-war book follows a young German soldier and his friends fighting on the French front. The 1930 film version is also very powerful.

A Very Long Engagement

This recent film starring Audrey Tatou is set in France immediately after the First World War. It tells the story of Mathilde’s relentless search for her fiancee. He is one of five French soldiers believed to have been court-martialled under mysterious circumstances and pushed out of an allied trench into no man’s land.

Life and Nothing But

In this film the French government commissions Major Delaplane to find a body to be buried under L’Arc de Triomphe after the First World War. Irene de Courtil is looking for her husband’s remains. Their relationship develops as they try to piece their lives back together in a world devastated by war.

Paths of Glory

Director Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece about French soldiers who are ordered to go over the top and then blamed for the fact that their attack doesn’t succeed. Kirk Douglas is the officer who tries to defend them from the hypocritical generals.

Across the Black Waters
Mulk R Anand

Novel about Indian soldiers who fought for the British in France. Coming to Europe for the first time in their lives they are shocked by the abundance of food even in time of war, and can’t understand why there is fighting in Europe.

The Regeneration Trilogy:
Regeneration, The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road
Pat Barker

Acclaimed and haunting historical fictional trilogy about British soldiers traumatised by war.

Observe the sons of Ulster marching towards the Somme

Frank McGuinness’s play on the experiences of eight men who volunteer to serve in the First World War. It reaches a climax at the start of the battle of the Somme, the anniversary of the battle of the Boyne in 1690. The Somme has come to have a sacred place in the Protestant consciousness in Northern Ireland. In this context the Somme Heritage Centre in Clandeboye Estate outside Newtownards is well worth a visit.

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