Films from the First World War

Moving picture cameras were invented in the 1890s. Early cameras were small, hand cranked and fixed in one position; as a result the films were generally short, under one minute, and only showed one scene. The first rotating camera was built in 1898 and this made it possible to take panning shots.

Until the late 1920s films were silent, when shown in early cinemas they were usually accompanied by music played on an organ, piano or by an orchestra.

Until as late as the 1950s moving pictures (movies) were filmed using nitrate film but this is highly flammable and decomposes with age. As a result many of the early films have been lost.

Some films have survived and the British Film Institute, Screen Archive South East and other similar organisations have been making digital copies so these atmospheric views of the past can be seen again.

In Britain, during the First World War small local film makers were creating short newsreels or documentaries and these would often be shown in theatres owned by the film makers.

As part of the Surrey in the Great War: A County Remembers project, and in collaboration with the British Film Institute, Screen Archive South East, Surrey Heritage has collected together a selection of films. These were made between 1911 and 1924 and illustrate a wide range of topics, including soldiers in Surrey, caring for the wounded, enemy aliens and post war life.

A few of the films are available to view by clicking on the links below.

Surrey History Centre, 130 Goldsworth Road, Woking, Surrey, GU21 6ND, tel: 01483 518737, e-mail [email protected]

Soldiers in Surrey

1915 The Queen’s West Surreys: Shooting by the East and West Surrey Regiment (Territorial) At Runnemede Butts. Three shots of soldiers receiving instruction in rifle fire. A 1915 film by the Topical Film Company. BFI collection reference 513050. Runnemede Butts were located on Staines Moor, now a Site of  Special Scientific Interest between Staines to the south and the village of Stanwell Moor. The film is titled Runnemede Butts and this is an older spelling of the modern Runnymede. Find out more about Staines at the time of the Great War.

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Caring for the Wounded

1915 The Indian Hospital, Royal Visit to Royal Pavilion Hospital, Brighton; King George V and Queen Mary visit the Royal Pavilion, where wounded Indian soldiers inhabit the temporary hospital. Filmed in 1915. SASE collection reference 8433 (see for a full description of the film’s contents).

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1915 Wounded at Kew. This 1915 propaganda short by the Topical Film Company shows happy British soldiers as they enjoy tea near Kew Bridge while children watch through iron railings. The soldiers are recuperating at Richmond Red Cross Hospital, accompanied by nurses and children. BFI collections ref 539137

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Allies and Enemies

Peace and War Pencillings by Harry Furniss (1914). Lightning sketches by Harry Furniss, the first depicting a German soldier laughing off the threat of being fought by a kangaroo, before being pictured trapped in the animals pouch as an “Advance Australia” flag is raised on its tail. Title: “The English as seen by German Artists”. Furniss in his studio selects a picture and places it on his drawing board; it features a caricature of a Scotsman that he embellishes to comic effect, followed by the same effect with a boxing kangaroo. BFI collection reference 20687. Harry Furniss (1854-1925) was born in Wexford, Ireland and worked as an artist and illustrator for The London Illustrated News, The Graphic and Punch, he also illustrated novels by Lewis Carroll.

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Enemy Aliens Interned (1915) by the Topical Film Company. Enemy Aliens of military age on their way to the internment camp at Frimley. Germans (?) in Britain interned at Frimley. Well-dressed men, two abreast, walk from a railway station (?) under armed guard. Many smile at the camera or nod. They all carry bags and or suitcases. High angle shot of street as the men are escorted along. Two army lorries pass. Some of the men wave their hats or caps. BFI collection reference 578222. Click here for more about Prisoners of War in Surrey during the First World War including links to Stories about the Frith Hill Camp at Frimley.

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Post War

London General Omnibus Company tour: Sutton to Reigate 1921. Travelogue produced by the London General Omnibus Company. “All aboard the no. 80 for a tour of some of Surrey’s finest villages. Our starting point is Sutton in South West London, with fleeting stops at Banstead, Burgh Heath, Tadworth, Walton-on-the-Hill, and see if you can glimpse Reigate Castle.” BFI collections ref 456051.

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Christmas Shopping Godalming 1922. An amateur film made in 1922 showing butchers, bakers and confectionery makers as they set out their festive stalls in this luminous film of Godalming’s historic town centre. BFI collections ref 15320. Find out more about Godalming during the First World War.

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Along Father Thames to Shepperton, 1924, a film by Graham-Wilcox Productions. A pleasure boat takes us up the Thames from Canbury Gardens, below Kingston, Surrey, to Shepperton, showing the grand houses fronting on to the river and houseboats of the well-to-do. Includes well-known beauty spots such as Molesey, David Garrick’s House and Fred Karno’s rarely-filmed ‘Karsino’ of Tagg’s Island. BFI collection reference 18712 (read the synopsis here: Find out more about Shepperton during the First world War.

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The British Pathé website includes more film clips relating to Surrey during the period 1913 to 1921, click here to visit the site.

3 Responses to “Films from the First World War”

  1. Andrew Dearlove

    The Video of the Queens and East Surrey show them using the Arisaka Type 38 Rifle. Both these along with the type 30 rifles and carbines were purchased from the Japanese in 1914/15 to fill a shortfall in available Lee Enfield Rifles with the expanding British army. These were mostly used for training and equipping units on home service.

  2. Alex White

    Almost all of the Runnymede Butts Rifle range site is now under the Wraysbury Reservoir next to the M25. It used to be served by its own station ‘Runnymede Range Station’ or ‘Runemede Halt’ which was on the Staines Branch line (GWR from 1900), formerly the Staines and West Drayton Railway. Also underwater are the sites of Yeoveney Chapel and Yeoveney Farm.

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