Lest We Forget

Remembrance Sunday will shortly be upon us. The British Pathé archive is rich in footage from twentieth century conflicts. We share some select films in the collections listed below.

The First World War

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.

WW1

The Second World War

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.

A general Second World War Collection can be found here – just a selection of the 4,000 films available.

WW2

Korean War

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.

KOREA

Remembrance

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

Remembrance Sunday is on 10th November. Remembrance Day is on 11th November.

www.britishpathe.com

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History in My Back Yard

Vast new audiences – journalists, historians, teachers and bloggers – have been actively mining the British Pathé archive since it went online in 2008.

Chris Holme, of the History Company, describes how one clip has shed completely fresh light on his own backyard:

At first glance, it looks as dull as dishwater – female Polish soldiers on parade in Scotland in 1943. No sound, monochrome, and no hint about provenance or location.

Looking more closely, the road seems strangely familiar, then the name of the hotel and finally the beach.  This is when the penny finally dropped this was Gullane – and they were marching through to sand dunes through the fields where our house and others would be built forty years later.

Polish women troops in Gullane. The location had remained unidentified for years.
Polish women troops in Gullane. The location had remained unidentified for years.

The film also has wider intrinsic interest – newsreels often show troop formations but rarely individual soldiers in close up. And even more rarely women soldiers in such detail and with such intimacy.

So it is a real, undiscovered gem – particularly for those who might now recognise their granny as a younger woman in khaki.

Newsreel archives have traditionally provided visual backdrops for documentary makers – sometimes offering genuinely new insight or just period wallpaper for a tired script.

Putting them online has opened up a whole new vista and worldwide audience who can look at the films for their intrinsic worth and add perspective and context.

I found two films of the Irish Free State football team in 1924 playing Celtic and the USA. At first glance, just lots of guys chasing a ball. But they also say a lot about the development of the Free State following the civil war.

It is also the first glimpse of Celtic playing overseas, the most travelled British club of that era and the Americans whose footballers were also much better behaved than the American rugby team. Both did well at the 1924 Paris Olympics, apart from a riot at the final against France and subsequent dropping of rugby as an Olympic sport – the USA are still the reigning Olympic rugby champions!

There is more, much more to discover, whatever your interest. And there may even be a film that shows your own back yard. Words by Chris Holme of The History Company.

POLISH_WOMEN_TROOPS_1859_02_335

The Polish Women Troops film can be viewed here.

Explore the British Pathé archive at www.britishpathe.com

or visit Chris Holme’s History Company site.

British Pathé Picks: July 2013

Here are some things in the archive that may be of interest to you over the next few weeks. Click on the links to take a look.

2013 British Open   (18 July)

The 142nd Open Championship takes place this month in Scotland. British Pathé’s coverage of past events can be seen on our website via this link.

Wiley Post Flies Solo   (22 July)

80 years: Wiley Post was the first to fly solo around the world. British Pathé has two newsreels covering the historic flight in this collection.

Bombing of Hamburg   (24 July)

It is the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hamburg in Operation Gomorrah. Shots of the RAF and USAF raids and the devastation wrought can be found here.

Korean War Truce  (27 July)

60 years: The signing of the truce in 1953 was covered by Pathé News and the original newsreel can be viewed here. The archive also has additional material from the Korean War, including combat footage. Here’s a selection.

www.britishpathe.com

Extreme Bodies – Gigantism!

Two in One

Most of us are lucky enough to go about our daily lives fairly inconspicuously but there are some men and women who literally stand out from the crowd. Super sized humans have always attracted much attention and fascination and even our clips about the tallest people in the world are very popular with our viewers. So we thought it was time to dig the films out and celebrate these great ones.

Robert Wadlow (1918-1940) – 8ft11

Robert Wadlow & family - Officially he's the Tallest Man in History

Born in 1918, Robert is still to this day known as the tallest person in medical history. When the Pathe cameras went to film him in 1935, he was a mere  8′ 1 1/2″. When they returned the next year, he was 8ft4″. By the time of his  death at just aged 22, he had grown to 8ft11’’. In this clip, he is surrounded by his family and even though his father was 6ft,  none of them stand much above his waist.

Ted Evans (1924-1958) –  7ft8

"I really don't think you're 9ft3 are you Ted?"

According to the Pathe notes, Ted was “the tallest man in the world at 9 feet 3 1/2 inches”. This is actually a gross exaggeration because we now know that Robert Wadlow is officially the tallest man ever at 8ft11″. Ted’s height was greatly amplified during his lifetime most likely for publicity reasons. He was in fact 7ft8.5″ but still at this great height, he was the Tallest Man in Britain at the time.   Take a gander through some of our clips on Ted going about his usual day to day business.

A Tall Story – 1946

Tallest Man – 1950

Clifford Thompson (1904 – 1955) – 7ft5

Clifford Thompson is greeted by his wife

Also known as the Scandinavian Giant, our footage makes reference to Clifford Thompson’s height of 8ft7” but other sources have noted that he was more than a foot shorter than this; he was actually nearer 7ft5”…….tiny!

John Aasen (1890-1938) – 7ft2″

Tailor climbs stepladder to measure John Aasen

There seems to be a running theme within our footage where people’s heights are somewhat embellished. This 1920s film tells  us that Scandinavian John Aasen is  8ft10″ inches tall and is the tallest man in the world.  John was in fact 7ft2″; petite compared to Robert Wadlow’s final height. However, he was one of the tallest actors of all time and according to folklore his father was 8ft and his mother was 7ft2″ – statistics that we perhaps should take with a pinch of salt!

Swiss Miss – 8ft

8ft woman at Chiswick baths in London, 1927

I’ll gloss over the man this woman is chatting to at the Chiswick baths in London…Anyway this woman is called Colossa – the Swiss Miss. At the time of filming (watch here) she was 18 years old and apparently 8ft high! We would love to hear from anyone who has more information on this lady. And was she really 8ft? The screen grab below suggests she was but we all know how cameras can lie…

Is this proof "The Swiss Miss" was 8ft tall?

Footage discovered of The Red Woman of Paris – the scandalous Madame Steinheil.

Marguerite Steinheil and Baron Abinger's wedding day, 1917
Every now and again a seemingly innocuous clip is brought to our attention when someone discovers there is more to it than meets the eye. A friend of Pathé, Commander Tony Bullock, who has been kindly researching naval footage within our archive, came across a fairly bland 30 second clip of a 1917 naval wedding. There is not much information attached to the footage apart from one name – Madame Steinheil. 

Boring? Yes perhaps but not until Commander Bullock looked into who this Madame Steinheil was, did he realise that this footage is of a notorious French woman with a scandalous reputation and sensational complex history who was dubbed the Red Woman of Paris. She was most famous for her association with the death of the French President Félix Faure and later she was implicated in the murders of her own husband and stepmother. She was quite possibly the most talked about woman in France at the turn of the 20th century.  

The French President Felix Faure

Marguerite Steinheil, (née Japy ) later known as  Lady Abinger and Mme de Serignac was born in to a wealthy family and after her marriage to a successful painter, Adolphe Steinheil, she immersed herself in Parisian high society and became extremely well connected to influential men within political and social circles, even counting the King of Cambodia as an admirer. Marguerite first met the French President in 1897 when her husband was awarded a contract.  Her husband’s frequent meetings with the President meant Marguerite became well acquainted with Faure and soon she became his mistress, often paying him visits in the private residence of the Palais de l’Élysée.

On 16 February 1899, Marguerite made one of her illicit calls to the palace. Many rumours and much speculation surrounded the events but it was widely reported that when servants were called to the boudoir, Steinheil was adjusting her clothing, her hair was tousled and the President lay dead from a seizure – allegedly brought on by a passionate session. Mme Steinheil was quickly ushered out the back door.

The French Femme Fatale

The embarrassment and shame that surely ensued after her connection with the death of the President did not, however, deter her having affairs with other men; in fact, she became the mistress of many more prominent men. Later doctors would go on to describe her as, “a highly neurotic subject with a pronounced tendency to hysteria, she seems to have exercised a curious spell upon all the men with whom she came in contact”. Her je ne sais quoi and femme fatale charms might explain why there were reports that men including the President even entrusted her with secret documents and manuscripts.

Scandal was not to stop there. On May 31 1908, Marguerite’s husband and stepmother were found dead having been gagged, bound and strangled with a cord. Marguerite was also found gagged and bound to the bed but notably unharmed.  Although she told police that there had been four intruders dressed in long black robes, she was a suspect from the start. The police initially did not have the evidence to prosecute but her stories began to unravel when she went on to deliberately frame her valet de chambre by planting a piece of evidence in his room. When her plot was unveiled she subsequently accused her housekeeper’s son of committing the murders. She was arrested later in the year and charged on complicity in the double murder.

Steinheil explains herself in court

The events surrounding the murder and the trial caused a feeding frenzy in Paris and there was a gender divided opinion.  And although the court had called her stories a “tissue of lies”, the rather theatrical trial climaxed with Mme Steinheil’s unexpected acquittal. After her narrow escape from the guillotine, Steinheil moved to England and in 1917 she married the 6th Baron Abinger, Robert Brooke Campbell Scarlett who served in the Royal Navy.

And so here you have it, British Pathé captured this newly married couple leaving the church on their wedding day. At first it seemed a fairly unexciting clip except now we know that this is footage of a woman embroiled in two of the biggest scandals of her time.

Behind every face, there is a story

Watch the short clip HERE.

Amy Johnson – 1930s Queen of the Air

Bravo Amy! Amy Johnson on her return from South Africa

Amy Johnson was a much- fêted and courageous English aviatrix. Back in the 1930s she set many ground breaking records, including being the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia. A heroine of her day, the Pathé cameras would often be waiting for Amy to commend and report on her achievements.

In 1933, during a flight from South Wales to the USA, Amy and her aviator husband, Jim Mollison, crash landed in Connecticut and according to our Pathé notes it was “after Husband ignored Wife’s advice to stop and refuel”. One would have thought this would have been significant advice and urgently acted upon in a 1930s aeroplane!

You can watch an interview with the couple after their crash landing. The pair are wheeled out in bath chairs to talk to the press. Jim, with a cigarette in his hand, resembles someone who has been in a considerable brawl. He calmly states, “we didn’t arrive in quite the way we anticipated”. One can only imagine what a wife would be saying to her husband after such an event….perhaps along the lines of ‘I did tell you we needed fuel”.

"Jim, I told you we needed fuel"

The extent of both Amy and Jim’s celebrated status at the time can be seen in this film where 200,000 New Yorkers turned out for an extraordinary ticker tape parade in their honour. If it wasn’t for the enormous bandage taped to Jim’s head, the parade could be mistaken for a Presidential inauguration party.

Heroic welcome in New York

 The last film we have of Amy is from 1939 when she swapped her aeroplane for a fast car and took part in the Monte Carlo car rally. Amy died on a short flight in 1941 when her plane came down miles off course in the Thames Estuary. She was just 38 years old. Many conspiracy theories and rumours surrounded her death at the time and even to this day there is still not a clear explanation as to what happened. For such an accomplished woman whose decorated career and movements were filmed by Pathé, it does seem strange we have no film in the archive mentioning the tragedy that befell her. However, at least we only have positive reminders of this British star.

1939, Last Pathe footage of Amy Johnson