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.
75 years ago this month: On 3rd September 1939, Britain declared war on Germany. This collection of vintage films from the British Pathé archive shows the preparations being made for war. The selection also includes a speech by President Roosevelt on his hope that the United States will not get involved.
Sound only material (no picture). A speech by King George VI on the outbreak of World War II. He talks about trying to find peace but that it is necessary to fight now that war has come. He calls on his people at home and across the seas to stand calm, firm and united. The National Anthem ends the broadcast.
THIS COUNTRY IS AT WAR – MR CHAMBERLAIN 03/09/39 (1939)
Footage of preparations being made in Britain as a result of the outbreak of war. Various shots of Spitfires and Hurricanes in flight and of the fleet sailing. This newsreel was released in cinemas in Britain on 11th September 1939. Britain and France had declared war 8 days earlier.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt gives a speech on America’s neutrality in the conflict across the Atlantic, declaring his hatred for war but stating that he cannot ask all Americans to stay neutral, for even neutrals cannot close their conscience. As with the above newsreels, this was released in cinemas on 11th September 1939.
September 2014 marks 75 years since the beginning of the Second World War, triggered by the invasion of the sovereign territory of Poland by the forces of Nazi Germany, in collaboration with the Soviet Union and Slovakia. Two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany in response.
This episode of the series A Day That Shook the World, a BBC / British Pathé co-production narrated by John Humphrys, briefly summarises the invasion.
70 years ago this month: On 25th August 1944, the Battle for Paris was over and the city was free of its German occupiers. There are some excellent films in the archive showing the victory celebrations, the Allied advance through France, and life in Paris during the occupation, including footage of the French resistance.
Pathé Gazette cameraman Gaston Madru conceals a camera and films the streets of Nazi-occupied Paris in 1942. The footage he captured was shown to the public after the liberation of the city in this newsreel, released in cinemas on 18th September 1944.
A French doctor talks abut role of doctors during the German occupation. He talks about the treatment of Germans, problems with the Gestapo and medical progress in England and America. He speaks in English.
Dramatic scenes as allied troops liberate the city of Paris. The cameraman was Kenneth Gordon and the newsreel features an official broadcaster of the French delegation in London who gives his personal viewpoint of the liberation. Released in cinemas on 31st August 1944.
This silent footage shows what was in store for Nazi collaborators after the liberation of France. French women have their heads shaved by the Maquis as punishment for cooperating with the German occupiers.
On 6 June 1944, the invasion of Normandy began. British Pathé newsreels documented every stage of the liberation of Europe. Three videos are especially worth bringing to your attention.
INVASION – PICTORIAL REPORTS FROM FRANCE
This contemporary Pathé newsreel documents D-Day for cinema audiences watching back home. It’s interesting to magine what they must have thought watching these pictures. Many would have had sons, brothers or husbands on the battlefield.
For a more in-depth look at the D-Day landings and subsequent battles, you can explore a collection British Pathé has compiled of footage from the archive and organised by topic. You can see a screenshot of the collection below, very similar to the one we recently produced for the First World War. You can find the collection on our website via this link.
“The Railway Man” is a new feature film starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. It follows the true story of Eric Lomax, a POW forced to build the Thai/Burma railway during WW2. British Pathé has coverage of that railway and of other events from the life of Firth’s character.
There is a film from 1945 of the railway itself, known as the “Railway of Death”, which was not used in any newsreels, and is sadly silent, but is nevertheless interesting to watch (the film can be viewed here). Lomax was forced to build the railway after leaving Changi Prison, for which there is also footage in the archive. The reel, from the liberation of the prison in 1945, can be found in this collection.
Also included is coverage of the war in Singapore during 1942, for it was after that country’s surrender that Lomax was captured by the Japanese.
“The Railway Man”, based on Lomax’s autobiographical account, is released in the UK today.
Click here for British Pathé’s collection of films related to “The Railway Man”.
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.
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.
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.
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 Sunday is on 10th November. Remembrance Day is on 11th November.
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, 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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
September 2013 marks the 75th anniversary of the Munich Agreement attempted to halt Europe’s march to war. British Pathé has a great deal of footage relevant to this anniversary. Click the links below to take a look.
These six vintage newsreels cover the Sudeten crisis as it was at the end of September, Chamberlain leaving for Munich, the Munich conference itself, and the signing of the Agreement by Germany, Italy, France and Britain. There’s also a brief biography of Neville Chamberlain from October 1938, celebrating him as “Man of the Hour”.
60 years:The signing of the truce in 1953 was covered by Pathé News and the original newsreel can be viewed here. The archive also has additional material from the Korean War, including combat footage. Here’s a selection.
Here’s our selection of British Pathé footage that relates to anniversaries coming up in the next two weeks. Click the links below to take a look! You can also keep up to date with aniversaries by following our dedicated Pinterest board.
It will have been 150 years since the birth of David Lloyd George on 17th January 1863. Lloyd George, Prime Minister during the First World War, features in a great many British Pathé newsreels. Explore them here.
Another birthday for January is that of American comedian Danny Kaye, born 100 years ago on 18th January 1913. There is some excellent footage of Kaye in the archive, particularly of his 1948 Royal Command Performance act and rehearsals. Watch them here.
Today is the 70th anniversary of the attack on the US naval base Pearl Harbor, a surprise attack conducted by the Japanese that led to America’s entry into World War 2.
Hollywood movies, books, essays and endless documentaries have been made on the topic of Pearl Harbor, a day that Franklin D. Roosevelt announced at the time “will live in infamy”, and still a hotly-debated military subject today.
However, like all history, nothing is better than watching footage of the actual events themselves if possible. In the British Pathé Film Archive we have a copy of the first newsreel to report on Pearl Harbour, and this footage was later used for a British Pathé documentary series entitled A Day That Shook The World.
This morning, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, we uploaded these scenes onto our YouTube channel War Archives. Click on the screengrab above to view it now.
Less than a minute’s footage of the actual surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was recorded, and that was by accident by a local doctor trying out his new camera, but remarkably he managed to capture the blowing up of the Arizona – and so this features in our reel. The rest of the footage was recreated by John Ford in Los Angeles at Fox Studios immediately after the attack. The American War Department directed him to recreate the scene so that it could be issued around the world as a key piece of reasoning in why America had declared war on Japan and entered WWII.
Ford’s original feature was called 7th December and ran eighty-three minutes. However the War Department were worried about showing the full-length film because Ford did such a good job of depicting how unprepared the American troops were for such an attack, and were concerned therefore that the movie might damage morale.
Of course, as with all sensational moments in history, ambiguity gave way to conspiracy and some have claimed that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor never actually happened, or worse still, was conducted by American forces, and was used as a mechanism to trigger and kick-start America’s entry into the war.
To add to the confusion many news groups since, including CNN, have confused the recreated scenes for the real thing.
Pearl Harbor was made into a successful Hollywood film 60 years later, starring Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Kate Beckinsale.
Today is the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.