Britain Joins WW2

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.

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KING’S WAR SPEECH (1939)

 

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.

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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. 

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WAR! (1939)

 

Footage of children being evacuated at the outbreak of the Second World War and European countries preparing to repel the Nazis. Also released in cinemas on 11th September 1939.

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PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT TALKS ABOUT THE WAR (1939)

 

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.

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75 years since WW2 began

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.

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The Liberation of Paris

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.

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IT HAPPENED IN PARIS (1944)

 

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.

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MEN OF THE MAQUIS (1944)

 

The story of the underground army of France with an exclusive personal narrative by the French actress Francoise Rosay. Released in cinemas on 10th April 1944.

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THE MAQUIS STRIKE (1944)

 

This film shows the French resistance uprising against a crumbling German occupation.

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FRENCH DOCTOR SPEAKS (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.

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GESTAPO TORTURE CHAMBER (1944)

 

French officials examine a Gestapo torture chamber and find chilling evidence of past tortures.

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PARIS DELIVERED (1944)

 

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.

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COLLABORATOR’S HAIR CUT (1945)

 

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.

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The British Pathé D-Day Archives

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.


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D-DAY – THE GREATEST COMBINED OPERATION IN WORLD’S HISTORY

Another contemporary newsreel, longer than the first, really shows the scale of the Normandy landings, looking not just at the beaches but the operations at sea and in the air.


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A DAY THAT SHOOK THE WORLD: 6TH JUNE 1944

John Humphrys narrates this brief overview of D-Day in an episode of the series A Day That Shook the World, which British Pathé co-produced with the BBC.


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COLLECTIONS & GALLERIES

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.

Finally, we’ve also put together a new gallery of 10 Amazing D-Day Facts. Do take a look.

D-Day

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The Railway Man

“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”.

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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”.