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Spring Offensive (1940)

Courtesy of Royal Mail Group Ltd

Main image of Spring Offensive (1940)
35mm, black and white, 20 mins
DirectorHumphrey Jennings
Production CompanyGPO Film Unit
SponsorMinistry of Information
ScriptHugh Gray
CommentaryA.G. Street
PhotographyH. Fowle
 Eric Cross
 Jonah Jones
MusicFranz Liszt

How British agriculture is preparing for the onset of World War II.

Show full synopsis

Spring Offensive was Humphrey Jennings' first documentary for the war effort and one of the few war films where he was not paired with Stewart McAllister.

Wartime government intervention in UK farming was inevitable. The hostilities had reduced the amount of imported food coming into the country, and a significant loss of labour following the First World War combined with the inter-war depression that followed, brought about a national emergency food production programme. A greater bureaucratic structure was established to connect individual farmers and their communities with central government. The War Agricultural Executive Committee, or 'War Ag', as it was nicknamed, was charged with bringing the vast derelict acreages of rural Britain back under the plough to produce much needed food supplies. The committee set about identifying derelict and unfarmed plots and offered incentives to neighbouring farmers such as machinery and farming rights to help get the land back into use. It was an essential but sadly very unpopular plan, and more often than not the implementation was far from the smooth takeover implied by the film. In some cases, long-standing disputes between neighbouring farmers that went back hundreds of years were rekindled and local committees took advantage of their new powers and used them to settle disputes over land boundaries often against owners' wishes.

Spring Offensive takes a look at the first year of agricultural Britain's war. It is set within a rural community in East Anglia where Jennings himself had felt so at home and its story is of the reclaiming of derelict land under the War-Ag food production programme and the subsequent gathering of a harvest. The film's use was extended in its non-theatrical form long after the war had ended, its story considered equally suitable for times of peace. This is firmly pointed out in the commentary, which reminds us not to neglect the people of the land after this war, as had been the case when the Great War ended.

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
Complete film (19:07)
Jennings, Humphrey (1907-1950)
The GPO Film Unit: 1940