This new DVD from the North West Film Archive weaves together archive material to tell the story of life in the North West before, during and after the Great War. Skilful use of footage commissioned by mill owners, manufacturers, cinema owners and early film makers paints a fascinating picture of society at the start of the twentieth century. Maxine Peake narrates the story, scripted to mark the centenary of the First World War. Great use is made of favourite pieces of footage from the NWFA collection, including mill workers and Stockport market. Alongside this we see filmed evidence of recruitment and training of the troops, from digging trenches in a local park to embarkation to the front.
It’s both poignant and surprising to see the individuals involved, some larking about as they are filmed informally. Some cinemas put together a Roll of Honour for their local community, not only those who had died but those who were fighting at the Front. Those faces, whether special constables or young recruits, hospital patients or newly trained nurses, were members of their communities, and may have relatives living now who are tracing their family histories. This sense of immediacy in the film is particularly strong when we see the footage of the Accrington Pals, the Lancashire Fusiliers and the Cheshire Regiment.
There’s also a strong sense of the prosperity that was lost through the war. Pre-war footage shows the role of the North West in manufacturing, engineering and exports, reflecting the region’s importance nationally and internationally. The Royal Visit to Lancashire in 1913 is recorded on film, with King George V and Queen Mary’s whistle stop tour of Lancashire mill towns.
Finally there is filmed footage of the War Memorials of the post war years, with dedication ceremonies from the 1920s.
These specially commissioned wartime films do more than tell the story of the home front. Through the power of the moving image they bring to life those who were once part of families and communities in the North West, reminding us of the reason for the centenary commemorations. Lest we forget.
While the footage is rooted in the North West, the images are relevant nationally and internationally. It is both surprising and poignant to see these images, some for the first time, brought together in this way.
The DVD of the film is available from the merchandising stand in Archives+ at Central Library, Imperial War Museum North and other outlets across the North West.