History in My Back Yard

Vast new audiences – journalists, historians, teachers and bloggers – have been actively mining the British Pathé archive since it went online in 2008.

Chris Holme, of the History Company, describes how one clip has shed completely fresh light on his own backyard:

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.

Polish women troops in Gullane. The location had remained unidentified for years.
Polish women troops in Gullane. The location had remained unidentified for years.

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.

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The Polish Women Troops film can be viewed here.

Explore the British Pathé archive at www.britishpathe.com

or visit Chris Holme’s History Company site.

The Munich Pact – 75 Years

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.

Chamberlain at Berchtesgaden 

Two films are included in this WorkSpace featuring Chamberlain heading off to Berchtesgaden to meet with Hitler to discuss the fate of Czechoslovakia.

Chamberlain’s Second Trip to Meet Hitler

Chamberlain returns from his second visit to Germany.

Munich Agreement

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”.

Chamberlain signs the Munich Agreement.
Chamberlain signs the Munich Agreement.

www.britishpathe.com

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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www.britishpathe.com

British Pathé Picks: 14th – 31st January 2013

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.

Churchill and Roosevelt at Casablanca 

(14 January)

70 years ago, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met at Casablanca to discuss the war effort. A 1943 newsreel covers the event. View it here.

Churchill and Roosevelt. Click the still to view the film.
Churchill and Roosevelt. Click the still to view the film.

David Lloyd George Born  

(17 January)

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.

Lloyd George in 1922.
Lloyd George in 1922.

Danny Kaye  

(18 January)

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.

Danny Kaye rehearses for a performance.
Danny Kaye rehearses for a performance.

85 years since the death of Earl Haig

(29 January)

Footage of the First World War general and of his funeral can be found here.

Funeral procession for Douglas Haig.
Funeral procession for Douglas Haig.

British Membership of the EU  

(29 January)

50 years ago, Charles de Gaulle famously said “non” to Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community. Click here to view the 1963 newsreel.

Topical! The US declared last week that they wanted Britain at the heart of the EU.
Topical! The US declared last week that they wanted Britain at the heart of the EU.

Hitler Becomes Chancellor  

(30 January)

80th Anniversary: On 30th January 1933, von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany. The newsreel, “Hitler Assumes Bismarck’s Mantle”, can be viewed here.

Hitler celebrates his victory.
Hitler celebrates his victory.

In other news

Spitfires in Burma

Excavations in Burma may have unearthed spitfires that have been buried there. British Pathé has a wealth of footage related to spitfires, just a selection of which can be seen here.

www.britishpathe.com

Pathé’s Undersea Antics

Continuing our series on “Alternative Pathé“…

There’s plenty in the British Pathé archive for those not so interested in history and British politics. For those more intrigued by science and technology, British inventions both good and bad got a great deal of coverage from the Pathé cinemagazines. More specifically, there are some fascinating clips concerning underwater exploration to be found within the Pathé collection as well as some more general underwater footage. Here are some highlights from our Underwater Adventures.

Filmmaker and explorer James Cameron recently dived the Mariana Trench. This newsreel documents the only other such trip - by the United States Navy in 1960. Click the still to view the film.
Filmmaker and explorer James Cameron recently dived the Mariana Trench. This newsreel documents the only other such trip – by the United States Navy in 1960. Click the still to view the film.
Using somewhat more primitive technology, a record dive was completed in 1934. Sponsored by the National Geographic Society, a record descent into the Atlantic was completed. Click the still to view the film.
Using somewhat more primitive technology, a record dive was completed in 1934, Sponsored by the National Geographic Society. Click the still to view the film.
Some pioneering technology can be seen in this 1960 footage of a new sub designed by the famous French explorer Jacques Cousteau. Click the still to view the film.
Some pioneering technology can be seen in this 1960 footage of a new sub designed by the famous French explorer Jacques Cousteau. Click the still to view the film.
Subs aren't always required however, and these eerie underwater images of HMS Breconshire, sunk by German aircraft in 1942, were taken by a scuba diver. Click the still to view the film.
Subs aren’t always required however, and these eerie underwater images from the deck of HMS Breconshire, sunk by German aircraft in 1942, were taken by a scuba diver. Click the still to view the film.
Relics are often recovered from such wrecks. This object comes from the Dunbar. Click the still to view the film.
Relics are often recovered from such wrecks. This object comes from the Dunbar. Click the still to view the film.
Divers aren't just interested in man-made wrecks. Footage in the archive covers underwater dinosaur bones, marine life and vegetation. There's a reasonable amount of colour clips too.
Divers aren’t just interested in man-made wrecks. Footage in the archive covers underwater dinosaur bones, marine life and vegetation. There’s a reasonable amount of colour clips too.
It's not all work and study though. There are many quirky clips of fun under the sea, including the underwater tea party seen in this still from the 1950s.
It’s not all work and study though. There are many quirky clips of fun under the sea, including the underwater tea party seen in this still from the 1950s.

This is just a small selection of the types of clips on offer within the archive. More footage of undersea technology, wreck dives, marine biology and archaeology, and a great deal of fun can be found on our website.

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Visit British Pathé’s collection of Underwater Adventures by clicking here.

British Pathé Picks: Nov 2012

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.

Battle of the Somme (18th)

In a few days it will be the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme coming to an end. Our First World War Somme collection contains some very good material.

Key Turning Point in WW2: Operation Uranus  (19th)

On the 19th of this month it will be 70 years since the Soviet Union began Operation Uranus, part of the Battle of Stalingrad. British Pathé’s material on Stalingrad can be found here.

65th Wedding Anniversary of the Queen and Prince Philip (20th)

On the 20th November, the royal couple will celebrate their wedding anniversary. British Pathé was there to announce their engagement and to document their wedding.

Interestingly, it is also the anniversary of the fire at Windsor Castle in 1992 – it’s been a whole 20 years since the Queen’s “annus horribilis”. We have some episodes of A Day That Shook The World that cover this dreadful year for the royal family. As well as the Windsor Castle Damaged By Fire, there’s the Prince and Princess Separate, and the Royal Family in Crisis.

Tomb of Tutankhamun opened (26th)

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.

Visit www.britishpathe.com for more films.