Pathé News, known these days as British Pathé, has been responsible for recording some of the most important events in history – from global warfare to World Cup finals, and now much of the footage is available to watch on YouTube.
With over 80,000 films to peruse, you would need years to get through them all – and there’s not a lot of order to the collection either. Regardless, if you’re looking for footage of well-documented cultural movements, news events and days that shook the world then British Pathé on YouTube is a great place to start.
Queen Victoria’s Funeral
Queen Victoria’s funeral is one of the earliest newsreels in Pathé’s possession, and it’s worth a watch just for the incredible scenes of life in 1901 following her death. Victoria’s 63-year reign saw Britain’s empire expand as far as Australia; while hardship and poverty ran endemic among the working classes.
Earlier yet is the rare archive footage above of Victoria in Dublin, Ireland in 1900 – also worth a click for a glance into a bygone era.
The Battle of the Somme
Few battles shocked the world like Battle of the Somme in the Great War. More than a million lives were lost in a single battle that raged from the July 1 to November 18 1916. Allied forces from France, Britain and the many far reaches of the British Empire attempted to push back the German aggressors in a battle that has gone down in history as one of humanity’s bloodiest.
The footage above shows the courage and bravery shown by troops as they went “over the top” and faced almost certain death in the form of German machine gun fire.
As the battle neared an end, German troops were taken prisoner by allied forces as they surrendered, before being led into underground passages.
The Wright Brothers’ First Flight
On December 17 1903 Orville and Wilbur Wright made history with the first recorded flight in an airplane, lasting a little more than a minute. The footage in this film is actually taken from a 1908 flight, but the sight of a lightweight wooden-framed prototype sailing through the air with such grace is still a sight to behold.
The Empire State Building
The Empire State Building took the lives of five workers in its 410-day building period alone, and watching the footage above it’s a wonder that number isn’t higher. The 1930s was a decade in which health and safety played second fiddle to the economy thanks to the influx of cheap and plentiful migrant labour on which modern America was built.
This is further reinforced by the scenes above, which show window cleaners practicing their art atop New York’s tallest tower.
In 1945 a bomber collided with the Empire State Building, killing 14 and destroying seven layers of walls. The above news footage shows the extent of the devastation.
The Titanic Sinks
Most of us are familiar with the story of the Titanic, the “unsinkable” trans-Atlantic liner that struck an iceberg on April 14, 1912. The footage above features honest interviews with survivors (from a film made many years later) and a brief overview of the incident itself, casualties as well as some of the reasons for so many deaths.
Also present is this film which claims to be the “only genuine footage of the Titanic held by British Pathé” – which shows the ship in port, a deadly sea of icebergs and the first survivors arriving in New York via rescue ferries.
The Tacoma Bridge Collapse
At the time of its collapse on November 7 1940, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington was the third-largest suspension bridge in the world, costing around $6 million to complete. The structure had only been open for a few months when a 35 mph wind set of a rhythmic swinging action that worsened with each sway before the bridge gave way.
The Bombing of Hiroshima & Nagasaki
Another episode of Pathé’s series “A Day That Shook The World” looks at the events of August 6, 1945 when a plane called the Enola Gay dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The weapon had been in development for years by a team of allied scientists in Los Alamos, but little was known about its effects on the targets below or the crew in the plane.
In addition to the narrated version, there exists the unused footage embedded above. It makes for tough watching in parts, and reveals the true cost of nuclear war to the most vulnerable.
Finally the film above, shot in 1964, shows both Hiroshima and Nagasaki nearly 20 years later, rebuilt to an extent but still clearly racked by psychological scars and the long-term health effects of a nuclear detonation. To learn more, watch a documentary all about the dropping of the atomic bomb in this previous Stuff to Watch.
We’ve barely scratched the surface of the British Pathé collection, but these are some of the more notable recorded events in the company’s collection. If you’re looking for specific archive footage, your best bet is to search the collection – using a particular year works wonders, as most are labelled accordingly.
Watch: British Pathé on YouTube
Let us know what you manage to dig out!