British Pathé holds one of the finest and most comprehensive First World War archives in the world. You will find chilling shots of young troops huddled in their trenches, wearing gas masks, and going “over the top”, as well as battleships at sea, and aerial warfare. There is also footage of shell shock victims at Seal Hayne military hospital in Devon.
The above link is just a selection and you can find more than 2,000 relevant films by searching on our site.
The archives of World War Two material filmed by British Pathé are wide-ranging. Pathé cameramen went with the troops all around the world as well as documenting the destruction at home. Footage details warfare on land, at sea, and in the air.
The Korean War is often referred to as “The Forgotten War”. Two and a half million people lost their lives in this conflict, including many British soldiers. Our Korean War Collection (just a selection) can be found here, or you can search our website for what you need.
As well as contemporary coverage of various remembrance events and religious services. A catalogue of our Remembrance Day footage can be found here, or you can search our website for more specific films. A particularly interesting one details the work of the Royal British Legion, and visits the factory in Richmond in which war veterans make poppies.
Remembrance Sunday is on 10th November. Remembrance Day is on 11th November.
As we approach Remembrance Day, that important anniversary on which we reflect on the great sacrifices of previous generations, it is interesting to look at the history behind its key symbol – the poppy. Why do we wear it, and how did this tradition come about?
The First World War was an earth-shattering global catastrophe that marked the end of the optimism of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It was this “Great War” which first introduced the use of the red poppy (the papaver rhoeas) for the purpose of remembrance.
No Man’s Land, a zone dividing the trenches of opposing forces, was heavily bombarded during trench warfare. The beautiful scenery and grasslands of France and Belgium were churned into wet mud and desolate wasteland. It was here that many brave men fell after going “over the top” to meet the flying bullets of enemy guns. And it was also here that, when the fighting had died down, poppies grew and spread in abundance, their blood-red colour in strong contrast to the brown muck. One of the most well-known references to this phenomenon comes in the war poem, “In Flanders Fields” by Lt Col John McCrae. One key line is:
If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields
These lines inspired their first use in the United States, where they were adopted by the National American Legion in 1920. It was not long before the wearing of poppies had spread to the United Kingdom, and it is here and in Commonwealth countries that the practice remains most common. Promoted by Douglas Haig, the poppies were soon widely worn on Remembrance Days. Made and sold by the Royal British Legion, the funds went – and still do today – to helping ex-servicemen and women and their families.
An item in the British Pathé archive details the making of poppies for distribution by the British Legion. It was filmed at the Richmond poppy factory which employed disabled ex-servicemen to construct the huge number of poppies needed every year. At the time the newsreel was produced (in 1968), the factory had 300 staff and manufactured 13 million poppies per annum. To achieve such a mammoth task, the servicemen worked all year round.
Today, the factory produces as many as 36 million poppies per year, though the number of employees is only a fraction of what it once was.
The full film also details the other stirling work done by the British Legion. It can be viewed by clicking here.
There’s been some controversy in recent years about the wearing of poppies and their meaning. There are also rival poppies – the white poppy for pacifists, and the purple poppy to remember animal victims of war. But the traditional red poppy is no doubt here to stay, and serves as a reminder of great courage and sacrifice, not just by those of the past, but by our countrymen and women who still fight for our safety in ongoing conflicts around the world today.
The British Government has announced that all wounded veterans will get the most advanced artificial limbs. This involves increasing funding by £6.5 million. A report by The Daily Telegraph, including an interview with Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond, can be foundhere.
This film from the British Pathé archive shows artificial limbs of the past. In the footage, First World War amputees practice with their new prosthetics.
In 1925, with the cooperation of the War Office, British Instructional Films set out to make a dramatic, feature-length reconstruction of the five Ypres battles in which 1.7 million soldiers lost their lives.
Directed by William Summers, the result is a silent classic. Unlike the famous 1916 documentary The Battle of the Somme, the Ypres footage is entirely “faked” and the film shares some of Somme‘s propagandist approach. Regardless, the film is no less fascinating as an artistic endeavour of its time and it features some stunning images. A degree of authenticity is provided by real soldiers taking part and by the filming having taken place in the actual Ypres trenches.
The documentary, called simply “Ypres”, can be viewed in its entirety on the British Pathé website, via this link. Some of the footage is quite dark and you might need to adjust the settings on your monitor, but it is well worth a watch.
William Summers also directed the film Nelson (1926), starring Cedric Hardwicke. The silent motion picture, also made for British Instructional Films, can be viewed here.
Today’s news is full of stories about the Pope’s resignation. After eight years, Benedict XVI will step down due to ill health. He will be the first pope to relinquish the position since Gregory XII in 1415. This was the statement that was released by the Vatican:
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonisations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.
I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.
For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.
From the Vatican, 10 February 2013
BENEDICTUS PP XVI
The British Pathé archive holds a great deal of material related to the papacy and to many of the previous popes who served during the Twentieth Century.
The earliest footage of a pope in the archive dates from 1922. Benedict XV died in this year and newsreels announced his death. His twenty-first century namesake called him a “prophet of peace” for his role in the First World War.
British Pathé filmed the election of Benedict XV’s successor, who served from 1922 until his own death in 1939. During his tenure, he presided over the transformation of Vatican City into a sovereign state. Click here to view a selection of news stories from his reign.
When Paul VI died in 1978, he was succeeded by John Paul I. Sadly, 33 days after his succession, John Paul was discovered dead in his bed. John Paul II replaced him, the first non-Italian pope for more than 400 years. He died in 2005 and an episode of A Day That Shook The World documents the funeral.
Here’s our selection of British Pathé footage that relates to anniversaries coming up in the next two weeks. Click the links below to take a look! You can also keep up to date with aniversaries by following our dedicated Pinterest board.
It will have been 150 years since the birth of David Lloyd George on 17th January 1863. Lloyd George, Prime Minister during the First World War, features in a great many British Pathé newsreels. Explore them here.
Another birthday for January is that of American comedian Danny Kaye, born 100 years ago on 18th January 1913. There is some excellent footage of Kaye in the archive, particularly of his 1948 Royal Command Performance act and rehearsals. Watch them here.
In the run up to Remembrance Day, the archivists here at British Pathé have been revisiting our old First World War footage. There’s a great deal of it, much of it dramatic and chilling. What has struck us most are the faces of these young soldiers as they sit in the trenches awaiting the order to go “Over the Top”. Sadly, the names of these brave men are unknown to us, as are their ultimate fates.
Which is why we need your help. Much of our valuable World War One footage remains unidentified. We don’t know exactly where and when some of the material was taken. For the sake of posterity, we feel it is essential to catalogue the films and contextualise them.
This year, we’re focusing on one individual.
The above still is taken from a film (view it here) in the archive and is believed to be from the First World War. It shows the marriage of a British officer to his bride.
Who is this person? Did he survive? Where might he be now?