Recently the British Council, an organization that focuses on educational and cultural importance, released a bounty of historical films produced during the Second World War for viewing online. These reels were produced to counter Nazi propaganda and convince the world that Britain was doing “just fine” despite the devastating effects of war.
In them we see a country at war, an army stretched to its limits and some prime examples of national pride and the “stiff upper lip” attitude that is uniformly recognised around the world as being quintessentially British.
There’s not enough room for 80 films here, so here are 6 of my favourites. You can check out the rest on the British Council’s website.
This is the first of five films produced under the “British News” name. This one is particularly interesting as it covers the rescue at Dunkirk, one of the most important and defining events of the war.
Also seen is a visit by King George VI to an arms factory where workers used lathes and volatile raw materials to produce munitions for the war effort, and naval servicemen being given a hero’s welcome after the Battle of River Plate in South America.
Much of the country was devastated by bombing during the war, and London was no exception. This video takes a look at a capital city scarred by air raids, while at the same time retaining a business-as-usual attitude.
The film also shows non-British allies “settling in”, including the first American troops to arrive and be welcomed. In one scene, there are more than 20 different nationalities present around Nelson’s Column.
Women in War
The damaging view of a woman’s place in society that was upheld before the war was soon forgotten once much of the country’s men were sent to the front line. In this film we see women being inducted into military duty, shedding the “diversity of fashion” for khaki uniforms instead.
Women performed many important roles on the home front during the war. Much of the remaining fire service was run by women, and women were often called to care for returning soldiers and to evacuate children from dangerous areas.
The Great Game
Football is, has and always will be bordering on religion in Britain. The FA Cup is the world’s most prestigious club trophy, but in 1945 it was substituted for the Football League War Cup as seen in this video.
Sport was one of the few respites for a country torn apart by war. This film shows a group of then-famous footballers teaching schoolboys a thing or two, as well as footage from the 1945 War Cup.
These days, the traditional printed press is on the decline but at the time of the war the opposite was true. Even though the war meant that the papers were never short of news, the blitz experienced by London complicated the process of creating and distributing the news.
This film takes a look at the work involved in producing an issue of The Times – to quote the film’s original description: “Bombs may fall, but the newspaper comes out on time.”
A look at London’s public transport system during the blitz, though this film does show the sunnier side of the situation. In particular the London Undergound was home to more than 150,000 people by 1940 as it provided safety and shelter from bombs and gas attacks.
The Underground became such an important residence for many of the capital’s residents that 22,000 bunk beds were installed along with washroom facilities, food trains and even entertainment in the form of films, music and libraries in some stations.
There are another 74 films in the recently released archive that I haven’t featured here, so if you’ve enjoyed these then you’ll undoubtedly enjoy digging through the historical collection which is diverse in its contents. These are largely propaganda films that don’t dwell on the wounds opened by the blitz and massive loss of life incurred.
In fact there’s very little front-line footage contained within, and cities that were virtually razed like Coventry aren’t mentioned at all. That doesn’t make the archive any less historically important however, so dig deep and enjoy.
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Did you enjoy these films? Do you have any favourites of your own from the British Council collection? Let us know what you think in the comments, below!