Battle of the Ancre Centenary Tour

25 February 2019 | Liz Robertson

In 2018 the composer Laura Rossi, with the support of the the First World War Centenary Partnership, led by IWM, embarked on a live orchestral tour of the 1917 film The Battle of the Ancre and Advance of the Tanks.

The newly restored film was released on DVD in November 2017 with Laura Rossi’s new score recorded at Pinewood Studios, conducted by John Gibbons.

The first 2018 live orchestral screening with the newly restored film was with Cardiff Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Andrea Quinn at Swansea Brandygn Hall. Further screenings were held at St Mary’s Church, Walthamstow, the Musical Museum, Kew, Redland Hall, Bristol, Skipton Camerata and the Square Chapel Arts Centre, Halifax.

Find out more about the tour at:

About the film:

The sister film to The Battle of the Somme, Battle of the Ancre was filmed between September and November 1916 and released in 1917. Filmed by cameramen Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell, the film drew big audiences and was a critical success. Box office takings were even higher in the first three months of release than for its predecessor The Battle of the Somme. Many consider The Battle of the Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks as the better film cinematically and it contains haunting images of trench warfare, notably of the mud that beset the battlefields, the waves of troops advancing into no man’s land, the use of horses and the first views of the ‘Tank’; the secret weapon which it was hoped would break the military deadlock on the Western Front.

About the Music:

The score for chamber orchestra is in 5 movements, which accompanies the 5 parts of the film. The music depicts the varied emotions conveyed throughout, reflecting the more poignant moments as well as echoing brighter scenes of high-spirited soldiers. The premiere was performed at the Imperial War Museum, London with Ealing Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Gibbons.

The whole project is about so much more than just the music.
Laura Rossi, Composer

Laura Rossi, writing about her experience composing the scores:

“So many people have a connection to this Battle. I discovered through working on these films that my Great, Great Uncle Fred (who I knew) was a stretcher bearer on the Somme & was attached to 29th division, who feature in these films, so it’s possible he may be in the films. It has been an incredible journey working on both composing these scores and putting on the live screenings of the Somme and Ancre films. Watching these films with a live orchestra, is such an incredibly moving experience and a unique way of connecting us to that time in history. Meeting the many performers and audience members who found their own connections to the Battle (though watching or taking part in the orchestral screenings), and hearing their stories and experiences was a huge part of these tours, some even spotted a relative in the films!

All the screenings were unique and special on so many levels, and for so many different reasons; Amateur, youth and professional orchestras and conductors enjoyed the new challenge and experience of performing live to film, many local societies joined up to put on a live screening and formed new partnerships, and the screenings have been very poignant and moving for both performers and audiences – many of whom found their own connections with the Battle – and screenings often become a commemorative event. Local history societies put on foyer displays of local regiments that fought in the war, and there were many displays from local school children’s art work and compositions from our linked education project Sounding the Somme (which over 1,000 young people took part in).

The tour has helped this film to reach a wider audience through these live screenings, as people also came because they are interested in attending a live music and film event, or to see a friend or relative perform, or because it was a local event in their local hall.

I very much hope that both the Somme and Ancre films continue to be screened with live orchestras for generations to come.”