Faces of the War Diaries – Stars of the Silver Screen

1st Battalion, the Cheshire Regiment’s war diary entry for the 13th of September, 1917 was fairly routine. The battalion was behind the lines at Liencourt, roughly 18 miles west of Arras. They undertook training as per their programme. Lieutenant G. R. Simpson joined them. They record the weather as being fine during the morning, but dull and windy in the afternoon and night.

Something else happened that day, however, and for Marie, one of our Citizen Historians, it really stood out from the crowd:

Cinematograph film taken of Battalion defiling past the Commanding Officer, etc.

Some quick detective work established that not only does a copy of this film still exist, it’s held in the Imperial War Museum’s collection and is available to view online. Thanks to Marie, words written down just over ninety-seven years ago have come to life – we can look into the faces of the men who fill the diary’s pages, get a sense of the bonds between them, the tight-knit spirit which sustained them during the bad times and the good.

We see them on parade and at rest. We also see Private Thomas Alfred ‘Todger’ Jones, awarded the Victoria Cross for actions during the Battle of Morval, just under a year before the film was made. He appears to be quite shy, a little bashful in front of the lens. It’s humbling to think that this unassuming man advanced alone across no-man’s land to kill an enemy sniper, bullets passing through his helmet and coat. He killed another two enemy soldiers who were firing at him, before single-handedly disarming another 102.

Image © IWM (Q 5240) - British troops embussing in Arras to go back for a rest, May 1917.

Image © IWM (Q 5240) – British troops embussing in Arras to go back for a rest, May 1917.

You can watch the film here: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1060022854

And you can see the diary page here: http://talk.operationwardiary.org/#/subjects/AWD0001ibw

For Marie, who made the connection in the first place, this is fantastic news:

When I tagged this and asked if maybe there was a record of the film in the Archives, I never thought that the search would be so successful. This certainly brings ‘History Back to Life’ after 100 years!

The film was so emotive. The men so smart marching, gathering around and looking happy distributing their food, relaxing and smiling for the camera. After tagging that Private 11000, T A Jones, had been awarded the Victoria Cross for killing 3 snipers, and capturing 102 Germans at Morval, to see him on this film was so surprising.

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  1. From the page to the screen | Daily Zooniverse - October 1, 2014

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