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.
A few years ago, what was then called “British Pathé News” began a production with the BBC called A Day That Shook The World. Two series were eventually made, the first narrated by John Humphrys, and they are available on our website to view (for free) in our programmes section. The last Pathé newsreel was released in February 1970, so this series and the associated series 20th Century Hall ofFamebring the archive beyond the twentieth century.
Topics covered by the series include September 11th, the Iraq War and the Capture of Saddam Hussein, the collapse of Enron, the Asian Tsunami, and the London Bombings. From this period, the series also covers the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla – not quite an event that “shook the world” but certainly an interesting one.
From the latter part of the twentieth century, the series documents the impeachment of President Clinton, the death of Diana, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the first Gulf War, Chernobyl, and the Falklands Crisis. Prior to that we are in classic Pathe territory, with episodes succinctly summarising key events using Pathe footage that was captured at the time – the Somme, Hiroshima, Queen Victoria’s funeral, to name but a few. The series therefore acts as a useful entry point into an archive of 90,000 clips to wade through.
Every now and again there are some important anniversaries that are worth blogging about. As it happens, there are four all coming up in the next few days. So here’s some relevant links that may be of interest to you.
On 26th November 1922, the archaeologist Howard Carter entered the tomb of the famous Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun. British Pathé has some shots of Carter at the tomb, as well as of the treasures found within. Our Tutankhamun collection can be found here.
We are now entering into the period leading up to Remembrance Day. We have already blogged this week about the history of poppies and why we wear them (see Poppies: An Illustrated History), but there is plenty more to discuss and explore. Since Pathé’s war archive is extensive, we present here some potential starting points, with links here to key collections that can act as a way in.
The archive of World War Two material filmed by British Pathé is wide-ranging. Pathé cameramen went with the troops all around the world, and documented the destruction at home. Footage details warfare on land, at sea, and in the air. Some collections that may interest you include our D-Day clips, coverage of the Battle of the Atlantic, the dramatic escape from Dunkirk, and the devastation of the Blitz.
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 want.