Wartime home front

A selection of films showing some aspects of the wartime experience of the East of England region.

First World War 1914 - 1918
Newsreels became a regular feature of cinema shows from 1908 onwards and travelling cameramen working for the different newsreel companies recorded scenes of this country at war, as well as selected scenes from the battle front. The East of England region experienced the first air raids on British towns and villages.

Second World War 1939 - 1945
Film stock was scarce during the war and official filming was focused on essential messages and propaganda, but some amateur film makers still managed to record their family and community. This selection of films presents a variety of aspects of wartime experience in the East of England region including military service, Home Guard and Civil Defence, American airbases, bomb damage, fundraising and farmers making best use of land.

Cat no. 543

Warwick Bioscope Chronicle: His Majesty's Manoeuvres

Running time3:17 Black & White Silent 1912 East Anglia

In the last major British army manoeuvres before the First World War, two ‘armies’ led by Sir James Grierson and Douglas Haig engaged at locations across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. Each had cavalry and infantry, aeroplanes and an airship, and vital lessons were learned, but the reality of trench warfare would make very different demands of the army.

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Cat no. 1092

The King Inspects Kitchener's Army at Cambridge

Running time~1:19 Black & White Silent 1915 Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Brief scenes of troops assembled on Parker’s Piece in Cambridge.

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Cat no. 1282

Ladies Fire Brigade

Running time1:55 Black & White Silent 1915 Norwich, Norfolk

Jumping from the upper floor of Chamberlain’s department store near Norwich Guildhall, these women members of the company fire brigade practising fire drill and rescue were recorded for a cinema newsreel.

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Cat no. 1015

Topical Budget: Ipswich Air Raid

Running time0:53 Black & White Silent 1915 Ipswich, Suffolk

The damage to buildings following a zeppelin raid on Ipswich, and the remains of a bomb.

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Cat no. 2473

Funeral of the Crew of the Zeppelin's Shot Down Over Cuffley

Running time3:11 Black & White Silent 1916 Potters Bar, Hertfordshire

From January 1915, the East of England region experienced the first aerial bombing raids by zeppelins. The loss of life and damage to buildings made headlines internationally. A zeppelin was shot down at Cuffley.

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Cat no. 901

Gaumont Graphic: Queen Alexandra at Norwich

Running time0:42 Black & White Silent 1918 Norwich, Norfolk

Queen Alexandra unveiled the Norwich memorial to Edith Cavell, a nurse from Norfolk shot by the Germans in 1915 for helping British and Allied soldiers in to escape from Belgium. The Norwich newspaper in 1918 called for the film of this occasion to be preserved in an archive.

“For the sake of local and historical interest the film being shown at the Prince of Wales Palace, recording the visit of Queen Alexandra to Norwich ought to be preserved for as long a time as such things are captable of preserving. Presumably there is some authority charged with the duty of keeping historical films in hermetical safety. If not there ought to be.”

Eastern Daily Press, October 1918 (cited in Stephen Peart, The Picture House in East Anglia, Lavenham Press 1980)

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Cat no. 792

Gaumont Graphic: Surrender of U Boats

Running time5:22 Black & White Silent 1918 Harwich, Essex

At the end of the war, the German submarines surrendered to Admiral Tyrwhitt off Harwich, Essex in November 1918.

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Cat no. 712

Roll of Honour

Running time6:54 Black & White Silent c.1919 Braintree, Essex

A very unusual film made to be shown at the Palace Cinema, Braintree. It is a series of photographs of the Braintree men who served in the War, reflecting styles of portraiture before and during the War. The men are identified by name, regiment and rank. This is the first of two reels.

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Cat no. 299

Alderman Riley Chairman Would Like a Word With You

Running time2:29 Black & White Sound 1939 Norwich, Norfolk

In this appeal to Norwich residents to volunteer for air raid precautions and civil defence duties, with scenes of the city on the brink of war, Alderman Riley of the City Council ends by pointing at members of the cinema audience in the style of Lord Kitchener’s 1914 army recruitment poster.

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Cat no. 536

Town and Family Scenes

Running time7:36 Black & White Silent 1939-1940 Clacton-on-Sea, Essex

Evacuees from London arrive in Clacton, then Clacton children are evacuated to the countryside, including Peter Smerdon whose father Herbert, a newspaper photographer, filmed these silent scenes of a wartime family Christmas and the boarding up of the town.

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Cat no. 810

Pathe Gazette: Youngest Woman Billeting Officer

Running time1:20 Black & White Sound 1940 Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

Newsreel morale boosting and the ‘novelty’ of a confident young woman succeeding where 17 men had failed to find homes for evacuees and others who had lost their homes.

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Cat no. 1702

Aspley Guise and Woburn Sands War Weapons Week

Running time13:25 Colour Silent 1941 Aspley Guise, Bedfordshire

Rare colour film used effectively to capture a colourful occasion and contribute to the fundraising appeal.

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Cat no. 90

Crown of the Year

Running time18:57 Black & White Sound 1943 Norfolk, Norfolk

An official government film to encourage efforts to maximise the benefit of farmland for national self-sufficiency. The voice of Norfolk farmer Charles Wharton is dubbed over and he is renamed Mr Hodge, perhaps out of concern that he might not be understood; this was sometimes the response to regional accents before television began to make local voices acceptable in national broadcasting.

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Cat no. 6633

Civil Defence of Luton

Running time37:49 Black & White Silent c.1945 Luton, Bedfordshire

This film was made as a record of the development of civil defence services in Luton throughout the war, ending with the victory parade. As many events were not filmed at the time, still photographs were used and scenes were re-enacted to tell the story.

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Cat no. 1292

Captain Rowsell's Norwich

Running time8:14 Colour Silent 1945 Norwich, Norfolk

A moving personal record filmed in colour by American pilot Captain Rowsell who was stationed in Norfolk and married Peggy Armes from Norwich who is seen in the film with her family. The extraordinary cemetery scenes as well as the views around the damaged historic city reveal his deep feeling for his wartime home.

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Cat no. 431

Calling Blighty

Running time11:02 Black & White Sound c.1944

One of two official films at EAFA in which serving soldiers in India and Burma appear before the camera to send messages to their families at home, who would be invited to a screening at a local cinema. Very few of these ‘Calling Blighty’ films survive.

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Cat no. 9761

The Challenge to Huntingdonshire War Agricultural Executive Committee

Running time37:57 Black & White Sound 1950s Cambridgeshire

Extraordinary effort using gyrotillers and other American and Australian designed bulldozers and cultivators to turn wasteland into productive farmland. The commentary on this film compilation is poor in places, but the scenes have a heroic quality reminiscent of the American dustbowl imagery of the 1930s.

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