The Day Before the Battle of the Somme

The General’s compliments and would Lieutenant Malins require any assistance with
his moving picture camera? If the lieutenant would care to inspect this map of the
Parade Ground… 
The General would be on horseback. He would enter the square here, and address the
men for twenty minutes, keeping his horse between this mark and this mark. There
were tall trees at the South End, here. 
The sun would be directly overhead. 
In the afternoon 
Malins sets up his camera in a corner where three communication trenches meet.
Lines of men in single file pass by. A corporal touches each man on the shoulder. 
A forensic lip reader who reviewed the film, said that each time the corporal touched a
man he would say 
And you. 
When the last man passes, the corporal says 
That’s it. That’s them all. 
One man says 
I hope we’re not in the wrong fuckin’ place again, cos next time I’m fuckin’ going. 
Cigarette smoke rises across the shot. 
In the long summer evening 
Malins takes the camera and the tripod past the Danger Tree, along a white road, up a
small hill and onto a ridge. 
After walking up and down the ridge several times to find the site with the best view, he
sets up the tripod, braces the legs with stones, puts a thousand feet of film into the
camera, and lifts the camera onto the tripod. 
As the sun comes up 
Malins cranks the handle at a steady two revolutions per second, while lines of men
run across the hill, falling to the ground as they pass a certain tree. 
This is either the first infantry advance on the first morning of the Battle of the Somme,
or the first time men are filmed in the act of fighting and dying. 
For the home audience 
The General arranges for more lines of men to be filmed, running across a different
hill, and not falling to the ground. 

Listen to Lynn Jenner read ‘The Day Before the Battle of the Somme

Women’s Business

When I had a son in his early teens 
a Russian thought formed in my head 
that if a war came I would cut 
the index finger of his right hand off 
so that he would be no use for fighting. 
The part of me which visits 
hospitals would do the cutting. 
I wouldn’t care if he hated me 
for what I did. 
I might even be pleased. 
By this time I knew that he was nearly 
a man, and that if I didn’t cut his finger off 
or shoot him in the foot, he would go. 
Even if he was afraid. 
Even if he thought it was pointless. 
Now he is a man and I ask him 
to carry my suitcase. 

Listen to Lynn Jenner read ‘Women’s Business


Lynn Jenner received the 2008 Adam Prize in Creative Writing, which is awarded annually to an outstanding student in the Masters in Creative Writing programme at the International Institute of Modern Letters. The work published here is from her winning manuscript, Dear Sweet Harry. 

‘The Day Before the Battle of the Somme’ is based on the story of film footage shot by the photographer Geoffrey Malins. A military activity, counting the living, is shown. ‘Women’s Business’ looks at some of love’s nastier obligations.