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War Library Items 1, 2 and 3 (1939)

Courtesy of Royal Mail Group Ltd

Main image of War Library Items 1, 2 and 3 (1939)
35mm, black and white, 10 mins
Production CompanyGPO Film Unit

Three cinemagazine items depicting British life in the early days of World War II.

Show full synopsis

Produced by the GPO Film Unit very early on in the preparations for war, these films demonstrate the consummate efficiency of the essential services and the preparation for hostilities. Discovered during the reassessment of the GPO holdings within the BFI Archive, it is not known exactly why or for who these films were made; there isn't even a record to identify if they were even publicly shown.

It is known, however, that the GPO Film Unit had, in the months leading up to war, taken part in documenting events that would normally be considered well outside of its normal remit. Air raid shelter tests and warehouse fire training exercises were being recorded and shelved purely as a record of what the cameraman saw. The peaceful south coast and white cliffs of Dover were documented too, as was the everyday scene in around the city of London as people began to prepare for war.

No particular production had been planned but the GPO Unit felt that as war grew ever closer it could provide an essential service to the Government. These library items could have been screened as part of a government information drive to inform the public via the cinema screen or they could even have been produced as a test production to convince the Government that the Film Unit could be of a useful service.

Time may reveal more clues as to the background behind these three curious gems. However, what is certain is that the GPO Film Unit was very active at a time when very few other film units were recording the changing environment. If it were not for the GPO, our visual evidence of the later part of 1939 would be recorded only in the minds of those who were there.

Steve Foxon

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'If War Should Come: The GPO Film Unit Collection Volume 3'.

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Video Clips
1. Who Are You? (3:51)
2. Standing By (3:21)
3. Where's The Fire? (2:26)
Complete film (10:02)
The GPO Film Unit: 1939