Churchill: A Life on Film

24 January 2015 marks 50 years since the death of a man who dominated 20th century politics like no other – British Prime Minister and international statesman Sir Winston Churchill. Throughout his life, British Pathé’s cameras provided the world with a unique, visual insight into his character. The company documented his career from the Sidney Street Siege in 1911 to his state funeral and has archive of many of his speeches. In 2002, Churchill was named the greatest Briton of all time.

In honour of this anniversary, British Pathé has curated a definitive, visual archive of his career entitled Churchill: A Life on Film. We have organised this content by topic and event and have presented it on a single navigable page for the first time. Click here to begin exploring.

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The Great War on YouTube

World War One changed everything. Through films in the British Pathé collection, we can see back into the past and remember the sacrifices of those who fought or suffered and look at the consequences of that terrible conflict. For the centenary commemorations, we have launched a new YouTube channel dedicated to archive footage from 1914 to 1918. There are also versions of the channel in German, Polish and Turkish. The channel trailers are viewable below.

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THE GREAT WAR

Every Thursday, our correspondent Indy will present a new video, constructing the ultimate history of that conflict, charting the course of the First World War from beginning to end

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DER ERSTE WELTKRIEG

Der Erste Weltkrieg veränderte alles. Vor genau 100 Jahren brach er aus. Das gibt uns den Anlass einen Blick in die Vergangenheit zu werfen und uns zu erinnern, was zu der schrecklichen Zeit passierte. ABONNIERT jetzt den Kanal DER ERSTE WELTKRIEG, um mit Christoph in die Vergangenheit zu reisen. Er zeigt euch jeden Donnerstag die Geschichte des Ersten Weltkrieges: Vom Anfang bis zum Ende. Zusammen folgen wir der Geschichte des Krieges in Echtzeit, Woche für Woche. Sodass wir im November 2018 die komplette Geschichte des Ersten Weltkriegs rekonstruiert haben werden.

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HISTORIA WOJNY NIEZNANEJ

Pierwsza Wojna Światowa zmieniła wszystko. Dziś – dokładnie 100 lat od jej wybuchu – przyglądamy się dziejom tego straszliwego konfliktu, śledząc jego losy tydzień po tygodniu.

Zapraszamy do subskrybowania naszego kanału ‘Historia Wojny Nieznanej’ którego prowadzący – Marek Kamiński – w każdy czwartek zabierze Was w podróż w przeszłość, prezentując historię tego przełomowego w dziejach nowoczesnej Europy konfliktu. Na Waszych oczach powstanie najbardziej kompleksowe kalendarium Pierwszej Wojny Światowej tworzone w czasie rzeczywistym – od lipca 2014 aż do listopada 2018.

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BIRINCI DÜNYA SAVAŞI

100 yıl önce Birinci Dünya Savaşı başladı ve her şeyi bütünüyle değiştirdi. Geçmişe bir yolculuk yapıp o korkunç zamanlarda neler olduğunu hatırlamamız için birçok neden var. BİRİNCİ DÜNYA SAVAŞI kanalımıza şimdi abone olun ve sunucumuz Hatice ile tarihe tanıklık edin. Hatice her Perşembe sizlere 1. Dünya Savaşı ile ilgili yeni şeyler gösterecek. Hep beraber savaşı en başından itibaren gün gün takip edeceğiz. 2018 Kasım’ında da Birinci Dünya Savaşı’nda tüm yaşananları tamamlamış olacağız.

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Versailles

This month marks 95 years since the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. British Pathé has footage of the delegates at the conference and of some of the repercussions of the treaty. There is also this later newsreel covering the lead-up to the Second World War: “The tragedy of 1938 was born in 1919 at Versailles”.

Some of the key films in the British Pathé archive are viewable below.

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1. TREATY OF VERSAILLES – PART ONE (1919)

The first two films in this collection, “Treaty of Versailles Part One” and “Part Two”, feature multiple newsreels related to the negotiations and signing of the treaty strung together across two reels.

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2. TREATY OF VERSAILLES – PART TWO (1919)

The first two films in this collection, “Treaty of Versailles Part One” and “Part Two”, feature multiple newsreels related to the negotiations and signing of the treaty strung together across two reels.

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3. FRENCH TROOPS OCCUPY FRANKFURT (1920)

Full title reads: “FRENCH EAGLES ACROSS THE RHINE. First pictures of the French occupation of Frankfort [sic].” A silent newsreel released in cinemas on 19th April 1920.

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4. GERMAN FLOATING DOCK (1920)

Full title reads: “ENORMOUS GERMAN FLOATING DOCK. 720 feet long with lifting capacity of 40,000 tons surrendered under Peace Treaty – arrives.” A silent newsreel released in cinemas on 13th September 1920.

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5. GRAVEYARD OF GERMANY’S AIR AMBITIONS (1920)

Full title reads: “The GRAVEYARD OF GERMANY’S AIR AMBITIONS. Immense numbers of machines and engines are being destroyed under terms of Peace Treaty”. A silent newsreel released in cinemas on 25th November 1920.

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6. THE BULLION PLANE (1925)

Full title reads: “The bullion ‘plane. 3 engined Junker monoplane arrives with cargo of bonds worth £10,000,000 consigned to Bank of England under Dawes Reparation Scheme. Croydon Aerodrome.” A silent newsreel released in cinemas on 29th August 1925.

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7. 12 YEARS AFTER VERSAILLES (1931)

Full title reads: “Germany. 12 Years After Versailles. Giant fortress of Kustrin which protects Berlin on East – one of the last now left in Germany – destroyed under terms of Peace Treaty.” A silent newsreel released in cinemas on 10th August 1931.

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Why We Wear Poppies

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
No Man’s Land

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

Earl Haig, supporter of the poppy and a founder of the Royal British Legion, visits wounded veterans at a hospital in 1921. Click the still to view the film.

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.

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, visits the Richmond factory in 1939 to watch the workers manufacture the poppies that were an important feature of remembrance even before the Second World War. Click the still to view the film.
War veterans make poppies at the Royal British Legion factory in Richmond, 1941. Click the still to view the film.
War veterans make poppies at the Royal British Legion factory in Richmond, 1941. Click the still to view the film.

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 still to above shows a workman punching out the poppy shapes from a sheet of linen.
The cut-out shapes of linen are placed together and pressed into a mold.
The stalk is then applied, a thin strip of green fabric wrapped around a metal wire, before…
…the individual poppies are arranged into a wreath.

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.

We will remember them.

Going “over the top”.

British Pathé has a substantial collection of war footage. Search our website www.britishpathe.com.

This article was originally posted, with minor differences, on October 31, 2012 as “Poppies: An Illustrated History”.

Imphal and Kohima

The British people have voted for their “greatest battle” in a poll conducted by the National Army Museum. The combined victories at Imphal and Kohima against the Japanese in the Second World War are now taken to be the “Greatest British Battle” in history, winning more than half of the votes cast. The runner up was D-Day, with 25 per cent of the vote. A full list of the contenders can be found here, in an article for The Daily Telegraph. For each of these engagements, the British Pathé archive has some relevant films that should be of interest.

Imphal and Kohima

“Invasion Scenes Far East” is a newsreel item showing British troops advancing towards Imphal in India. “Japs Trapped At Imphal” follows Indian infantry of 5th and 7th Indian divisions as they advance through the Hills of Manipur, past the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers, to trap the enemy.  Finally, “Driving Out The Japs” follows Lord Louis Mountbatten inspecting Indian soldiers and British men of the 14th Army at Imphal and Kohima. You can find all three films in this collection.

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D-Day

There’s an extensive collection of films from the Normandy landings during WW2 in the British Pathé archive. Click here for a selection. A more general Second World War Collection can be found here.

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Unknown Yom Kippur War films

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The British Pathé archive holds nearly 90,000 individual clips. Most of the descriptions you’ll see on the website were taken from handwritten notes, composed either by the cameramen at the time of filming or by former archivists decades ago. The notes were all fed into a computer database at the beginning of the new millennium. Some amendments were made at that time, and steadily since, but there is still much work to be done.

Due to the sheer number of films in the collection, there are a great many that our staff members will never have seen and perhaps never will. This means that we need the help of the public to ensure that the information displayed is accurate. We’ve been fortunate to receive a great many emails over the last few years with some really terrific and helpful corrections to the descriptions, but the volume of them means that we just can’t keep up with all of the necessary changes. In fact, we currently have a backlog of about five thousand!

We therefore launched a comment facility when our new website went live and we’ve just updated the system to make things easier for you. It allows any registered user to leave a comment beneath a clip (to register, just click “join” in the top right-hand corner – It takes a couple of seconds and is completely free of charge). We’re able to monitor all of the comments made, so eventually we’ll be able to correct the descriptions based on what you’ve shared – and, in the meantime, at least all of that information will be available for viewers in the comments section.

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Our new comments box

We want your help identifying dates, locations, people and events throughout the entire archive. But, just to get you going, we’re making a specific request for information about these films from the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

British Pathé only has a few clips from that conflict and we’re unclear about many of the details. If you know the dates, locations, types of tank and armoured vehicle, information about the troops, etc., do please leave a comment beneath the relevant clip.

We are very keen to make our archive as informative and comprehensive as possible. The details that you provide will be of use to future generations of historians, researchers, programme-makers, and members of the general public. Thank you for your help!

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For British Pathé’s collection of Yom Kippur material, click here.

For an interview with Moshe Dayan from around the same time, click here.

London: A Tribute

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2012, if we do indeed survive the predicted apocalypse, will be remembered for many things, but without a doubt it will be considered London’s year. The Diamond Jubilee, the Summer Olympics and the Paralympics all centred on the great city and were enormously successful. (Click the links on those events to see related footage in the British Pathé archive, including the 1908 and 1948 London Olympics.) As a tribute to 2012 and to London, we’re sharing with you themed collections of clips from the city’s past, whether heart-warming or chilling. Explore London as a political, musical, theatrical, busy, fun, popular and tragic place. Click the links below to take a look.

The seat of power

A collection of material from big political and ceremonial events that took place in the capital. These include coronations, funerals, cabinet meetings and historic speeches.

The funeral of George VI, London (1952)
The funeral of George VI, London (1952)

London in Wartime

Not only WW2 footage, but also from other 20th century wars – including the Boer War.

Firefighters battle flames during the Blitz, London (1941)
Firefighters battle flames during the Blitz, London (1941)

London tragedies

Freak events, disasters and terrorist attacks in the capital. Also includes clips about London’s amazing emergency services.

Rail crash in London (1957)
Rail crash in London (1957)

The world of London women

Here we see the changing role of women living in London over time. Footage includes the suffragettes, women’s wartime roles and advice on homemaking.

Suffragettes on the march, London (1910s)
Suffragettes on the march, London (1910s)

London at work

Employment in the capital.

Heading off to work in the morning, London (1960)
Heading off to work in the morning, London (1960)

London at leisure

How Londoners spent their free time.

Dancing the night away, London (1925)
Dancing the night away, London (1925)

Musical London

Celebrating the great acts who have played in the capital, from the Rolling Stones and the Beatles to the choir of Westminster Cathedral.

The Dave Clark Five play some of their hits, London (1964)
The Dave Clark Five play some of their hits, London (1964)

Theatrical London

London’s theatres, television studios and film premieres.

Bertram Mills' circus thrills crowds, London (1962)
Bertram Mills’ circus thrills crowds, London (1962)

Fashionable London

Get vintage fashion tips from Londoners of the past.

Models show off some fabulous nylon wigs, London (1963)
Models show off some fabulous nylon swimming caps, London (1963)

Visitors to London

A collection of clips showing famous guests and state visits as well as immigration. Includes THIS IS LONDON, a piece made to advertise London as a tourist destination.

Marilyn Monroe arrives at the airport, London (1956)
Marilyn Monroe arrives at the airport, London (1956)

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