The eerie serenity of a summer’s day by water, before one of history’s bloodiest battles
‘We laugh and for one heartbeat forget to be afraid…’
The Battle of the Somme, fought by French and British forces against the German army in northern France in 1916, was one of the bloodiest in history. It lasted 140 days and resulted in more than 1.5 million casualties. The Scottish artist Herbert James Gunn (1893-1964) served as a rifleman, and painted The Eve of the Battle of the Somme in the field, just hours before the attack on ‘the Boche’ began on 1 July 1916. He depicts a scene of eerie serenity: young men relaxing by water on an idyllic day, watched by a menacing line of army tents, a foreshadow of the unfathomable bloodshed that followed. Commissioned by the UK charity The Poetry Society, the short film The Big Push reinterprets Gunn’s painting through impressionistic paint-on-glass animation. It is set to an eponymous poem written and read by the contemporary Scottish poet John Glenday, inspired by Gunn’s painting.