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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Centenary of the Rohilla Tragedy

It is 100 years since the WW1 hospital ship HMHS Rohilla sank off the coast of Whitby. The passenger steamer was part of the British Indian Steam Navigation Company fleet and was called up for service at the outbreak of the war. It ran aground in stormy seas a short time later with the loss of 83 lives. The British Pathé archive has footage of the sinking and the rescue effort.

Amazingly, Titanic survivor Mary Kezia Roberts was also aboard and survived the disaster. British Pathé also has coverage of Titanic survivors arriving in New York aboard the Carpathia. Titanic’s sister ship Britannic was also a hospital ship during the First World War and sank in 1916.

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Invented in World War One

In two new videos from Indy (our man in cyberspace), British Pathé presents some inventions that were rather surprisingly developed for the First World War – all of which we still use today! View the videos below.

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WW1: How It All Began

In this YouTube video, historian and broadcaster Dan Snow was challenged to answer the question “How did WW1 start?” – and to do so in only two minutes. See how he got on…

Today, 4 August 2014, marks the centenary of Britain’s entry into the First World War and the escalation of a horrific conflict which would last more than four years and cost the lives of millions worldwide.

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British Pathé presents: WW1 – The Definitive Collection

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August 2014 marks one hundred years since the start of World War One. To commemorate this landmark occasion, British Pathé has launched a definitive collection of WW1 films.

British Pathé holds one of the finest and most comprehensive First World War film archives in the world. There’s footage of trench warfare, zeppelin raids, battleships at sea, U-boats, protests, wartime propaganda, and countless other interesting subjects.

The collection has been organised by topic, event and protagonist, and for the first time presented on a single navigable page.

You can explore the collection here.

A sample image of the newly-created collection, organised by topic.
A sample image of the newly-created collection, organised by topic.

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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.

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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”.