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.

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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.

On this day… This week round-up

70 years ago, the submarine HMS Thunderbolt sank for the second time, with the loss of everyone aboard. It had sunk four years previously, raised, and renamed. British Pathé has footage of HMS Thunderbolt, its launch at Birkenhead, and the original sinking off North Wales. Click here to view the collection.

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HMS Thunderbolt.

Cheltenham Gold Cup  (15 March)

Tomorrow, the 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup will take place. British Pathé has footage of the very first Gold Cup jump race, in 1924. Watch the film here.

Six Nations: England v Wales  (16 March)

On Saturday, England will play Wales in a deciding game. England’s 1924 Grand Slam can be viewed here.

Marshal Tito visits London  (16 March)

60 years ago, the leader of Yugoslavia came to Britain and met the Prime Minister in London and toured Cambridge. British Pathé newsreels covered the state visit. You can view them here.

50 years since the death of Sir William Beveridge  (16 March)

British Pathé conducted interviews with Sir William on his welfare report and covered his wedding in 1942. Click here to view the films. He died on 16th March 1963.

In other news…

Nick Compton

Nick Compton recently made his England Test cricket debut (November 2012) and is currently touring with the team in New Zealand. Nick is the grandson of cricketer and footballer Denis Compton, who features heavily in the British Pathé archive. A selection can be found here.

Past Popes

The British Pathé archive has a great deal of footage for the Twentieth Century popes from 1922 until 1972. A selection for each can be found via these links:

Benedict XV – died 1922

Pius XI British Pathé filmed the election of Benedict XV’s successor, who served from 1922 until his own death in 1939.

Pius XII – Pope from 1939 until 1958.

John XXIII – Pope from 1958 until 1963.

Paul VI Pope from 1963 until 1978.

www.britishpathe.com