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.

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Unknown Distant Plane – The least interesting clip in the archive?

We came across this clip in our archive quite recently called “Unknown Distant Plane” from some time between 1910 and 1920 and it was quickly proclaimed the least interesting clip we’d ever seen! We feel guilty thinking that about any clip in the archive, but as you can gather from the images, there’s not a great deal to see. And when it looks like something might be happening, with soldiers appearing in the frame, we end up only being shown the tops of their heads.

There's a plane up there somewhere.
There’s a plane up there somewhere.
Some fascinating head shots.
Some fascinating head shots.

So why are we sharing with you such a boring clip? Because we refuse to believe that it doesn’t have some value, though we require some assistance to know exactly what that value is.

Can you help identify the location? The type of plane? The uniforms? We already have a helpful comment from “Hayling_Billy” beneath the clip: “Looks to me very much like a Bleriot monoplane. The fact that a camera was on hand, and the ‘rush’ of people towards it (to see it land?) points to an event of some importance.” This has got us very intrigued! Does this sound right? Is there any additional information, or any historical context, that you might be able to share?

If so, leave a comment beneath the clip, or at the end of this blog post.

View the clip here.

Pathé News on the Vietnam War

22nd November marks forty years since the first B52 bomber was shot down in the Vietnam War in 1972. Although we have no coverage of that particular incident, the anniversary has prompted us to search our archive and to take a look at our other footage of that controversial conflict. Here we present a brief summary.

The war was indeed divisive, as these images reveal. They are from the 1968 Vietnam War demonstrations held in Trafalgar Square, London. The clips can be found in this collection: Vietnam demonstrations British Pathé and the BBC also produced a brief summary of the demonstrations for our A Day That Shook The World series. The episode can be viewed here.

As well as the political situation in London, the British Pathé archive also holds combat footage, filmed with the American troops. This material is often forgotten, lost among the overwhelming amount of first and second world war coverage within the archive. Much the same can be said of our Korean War holdings (outlined here).

A B-52 bomber is loaded and takes off from a runway in Vietnam. Click the still to view the film.

The footage is wide-ranging. Included are political discussions and conferences, such as those held in the United Nations, between the different parties; the preparations for battle and the troops in their camps; Bob Hope entertaining the US soldiers; troops on patrol; bombs dropped and rockets being fired; Australian soldiers returning home; and general coverage of Vietnam, such as women working in a field and life in Hanoi.

Possibly also of interest are the A Day That Shook The World episode chronicling the French surrender at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and this broader Vietnam collection. More can be found simply by searching the website (a simple search for “Vietnam” reveals 321 clips!)

A somewhat random selection of stills from the footage provides a taste of what the archive has to offer:

An American ship fires two rockets. Click the still to view the film.
Bombs are dropped from US planes. Click the still to view the film.
Helicopters land.
An injured guerilla is carried off on a stretcher by American forces. Click the still to view the film.
An American fighter takes off from an aircraft carrier. Click the still to view the film.
South Vietnamese troops on patrol. Click the still to view the film.
Nixon prepares to deliver a speech.
A normal day in Hanoi, 1974.

These clips serve as a reminder of that terrible waste of human life – the Vietnam War, 1955-1975.

You can view a selection of British Pathé’s Vietnam combat footage by clicking here or you can explore our broader Vietnam collection

A World War One Wedding

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?

Contact us.

British Pathé has a substantial collection of war footage. Visit our First World War collection.