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Topical Budget 485-2: General Booth's Return (1920)


Main image of Topical Budget 485-2: General Booth's Return (1920)
35mm, black and white, 61 feet
Production CompanyTopical Film Company

General Booth of the Salvation Army arrives in Ottawa, Canada.

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This newsreel depicts Bramwell Booth (1856-1929), the then highest-ranking officer (hence the title General) of the Salvation Army, which his parents William (1829-1912) and Catherine (1829-1890) had originally founded.

Initially based in the East End of London, and called the Whitechapel Children's Mission. In 1878, it was reorganised along the lines familiar to this day, with the name 'The Salvation Army' supported by a quasi-military structure, its staff known as "officers". It was noted for its progressive attitude towards women, who were considered equal partners from the outset. Catherine Booth would later be recognised as a pioneering feminist thinker, and made many important contributions towards improving the lives of working women.

Bramwell Booth was made General of the Salvation Army following the death of his father in 1912. The hereditary aspect aside, he was amply qualified for the role, having worked full-time alongside his father since 1874, and being largely responsible in his own right for the military aspects of the Salvation Army's guiding principles.

By 1920, when this film was shot (by the International News agency, which licensed the footage to the Topical Film Company in Britain), the Salvation Army had become an international organisation, and was particularly active in Canada, where General Booth's younger sister Evangeline had been based since the late 1890s. The sheer size of the crowds (and the accompanying banners) makes it clear that a visit from General Booth was an event of huge national importance.

As a footnote, the brand name Magnavox is prominently displayed on the front of the loudspeakers used to relay Booth's address to the crowd. The moving-coil loudspeaker had been invented by the company's founders in 1915 (the company name is derived from the Latin for "loud voice") but not marketed until 1917, so it would still have been a relatively new invention when this newsreel was filmed. Sadly for posterity, synchronised sound was still a few years away, so only lip-readers can derive much benefit of this record of Booth's speech.

Michael Brooke

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