BBC Two Northern Ireland The Arts Show Special

BBC Two Northern Ireland The Arts Show

Battle of the Somme Special • Friday 01 July, 10pm

Preview by Stacy Fitzpatrick

The Battle of the Somme, many of us will have learned about from our history lessons at school. Some of us may have even heard stories passed down through the generations in our own families.

The 100-year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme is the background for The Arts Show this month as Marie-Louise Muir visits the area in France that for many symbolises the horror of World War One.


From sites including Thiepval Woods, the Ulster Memorial Tower and the Thiepval monument, the programme looks at some of the art that emerged as a result of the experience of war, and some for which the Somme provided inspiration.

The programme takes viewers on a present day journey filled with empathy, unveiling personal accounts and reflecting the enormity of this epic battle from World War One, a battle which has shaped the world we know now.


Series producer Paul McLean said: “We wanted to bring the viewers a sense of the place, 100 years on from the Battle of the Somme.

“We travelled around the Somme area, Thiepval Woods, the Ulster Memorial Tower and the Thiepval monument, filming links for the programme.

“When you couple the sense of scale, with so many headstones, and you read the statistics, but also hear about the individual stories, then the full sense of the tragedy becomes very real.

“It was a remarkable journey for the team and we all came back moved by the experience.”

The Arts Show also looks beyond the tragedy showing how those involved in the battle dealt with the effects of going to war.


They discuss how the music of the Great War began as ‘jolly ditties to gee up the troops’ but by 1916 the reality of battle had literally changed their tune.

Marie-Louise explores the Irish artistic influences from the battle, travelling to the Citizen Theatre, Glasgow, to meet Irish playwright Frank McGuinness and discusses how a Donegal man came to write ‘Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme’, one of the most moving and acclaimed creative renditions of the French battlefields.

Back on home ground, veteran news broadcaster Denis Tuohy discovers a previously-unseen treasure trove of art from the World War One front line collected by Newry woman Olive Swanzy.

Olive, a nurse in the Great War, tended many soldiers at the front. To help them recover, she encouraged them to write and draw. Olive kept the artwork and the heartbreakingly-raw poetry and when she came home to Northern Ireland, stored them in her attic.


When she passed away in 1974, new owners of the property she had shared with her sister in Rostrevor, discovered the extraordinary artefacts.

Among the artwork discovered were sketches by Private Fergus Mackain, an illustrator by trade, who designed humorous postcards for soldiers to send home to their families.

The postcards, which became known collectively as the ‘A Tommy’s Life’ series provide a vital document of real life in the trenches.

The programme also profiles Ireland’s answer to Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen, the war poet, Francis Ledwidge.

Steven Rainey examines the role of war artists, from the great epic works of Sir John Lavery and William Orpen, to more modern practitioners such as Belfast photographer and artist Paul Seawright.

Detailing the roles of Irish people from the battle and chronicling the events from an extraordinary perspective, this episode of The Arts Show is on BBC Two Northern Ireland, Friday 01 July 10pm.

Watch again via BBC iPlayer

Olive Swanzy - centre - during her time at The Somme



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