The Sound of War: Audio, Radio and the First World War

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There are many iconic visual images of First World War, but it was also a conflict of terrifyingly new and intense sounds. Whether it was the bombardments audible miles away from the frontline or the cacophony of mechanised war and its human suffering, the capturing of its sound is intensely potent. Although public radio broadcasting began only in the 1920s, the wireless had already been established: the death toll on the Titanic in 1912 would have been even higher if it had not been for the ship sending an emergency call and, by the time of the First World War, wireless was an indispensable communication tool for the military. During the First World War there were also examples of what we can call ‘pre-radio drama’ such as ‘In the Trenches’ (1917), an extraordinary studio recording which attempts to capture, along with vivid dialogue and sound effects, the ‘sound’ of the frontline during an intense attack. After the war there are many examples of radio plays about the conflict in a myriad of approaches capturing, through the pure medium of sound, the memories, the horror, the heroism of the First World War. This chapter will look at the First World War and sound, then analyse a variety of relevant audio and radio dramas from the contemporaneous to the present day, including an account of the development of the BBC’s ambitious ‘real-time’ epic serial Tommies, which will run from 2014-18.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Edinburgh Companion to the First World War and the Arts
EditorsAnn-Marie Einhaus , Katherine Isobel Baxter
Place of PublicationEdinburgh
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781474401647, 9781474425728
ISBN (Print)9781474401630
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017


  • First World War
  • Radio
  • sound
  • Drama

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