The Battle of the Somme sent to the Dutch West Indies, 1916

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Description

Official correspondence between Wellington House and the Foreign Office concerning the dispatch and distribution of The Battle of the Somme in the Dutch West Indies. The letter is dated 26 August 1916.

Context

The spectacular international success of The Battle of the Somme sparked the dissemination of official British films to foreign territories. In a letter dated 26 August 1916, S.A. Gowers based at Wellington House, Britain's official propaganda bureau, informed Miles Lampson from the Foreign Office's Central Department about the plans to send the Somme film to ‘the British West Indies, the Guianas and Venezuela’ through ‘[a] Mr Reginald Davis, managing director of the West India Development Ltd’. This Davis was supposedly well-known in the Dutch West Indies and worked for a company owning ‘the more important theatres there’. Davis was to be assisted by British representatives in Venezuela and French and Dutch Guiana, who should ‘do anything they can to render […] the exhibition a success’. As in the case of the Netherlands, the British Foreign Office decided to entrust the distribution of their propaganda films to a local entrepreneur, helped by the British consular officers on the ground. This was in line with official guidelines from the British Department of Information, as written in a Report of Proceedings of Wellington House on 14 November 1917: ‘our great desire is to get local demands. I do not believe this thing can be run from London’. The Battle of the Somme reached Suriname relatively late and although only screened for a very short period of time, it caused a stir that was unrelated to the cinematographic value of the picture. The film allegedly reached British Guiana on 9 December 1916. It had been brought over by Mr Shaw, director of the London Electric Theatre that was located in Demerara in British Guiana, and its screening led by Mr Davis (most probably the aforementioned Reginald Davis). ‘Mr. Shaw of the London Electric Theatre of Georgetown was in charge’ of the copy and travelled around, also reaching Dutch Guiana. Despite a joint effort of the commercial agents and the British consul, Rev. Kissack, the film was not popular among Dutch colonials, who felt isolated from the war and therefore disinterested in an outdated record of a battle taking place at the remote Western Front.