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Young Veteran (1940)


Main image of Young Veteran (1940)
35mm, 23 min, black & white
Production CompanyEaling Studios
Executive ProducerMichael Balcon
ProducerAlberto Cavalcanti
Commentary WriterMichael Frank
EditorCharles Crichton

Commentator: Michael Frank

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The first months of WWII as experienced by the new young recruits - the 'young Berts' - of the British Army.

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"We went to France young soldiers. We came back veterans".

In 1940 studio head Michael Balcon invited Alberto Cavalcanti, then acting head of the highly regarded GPO Film Unit, into the Ealing fold to run a new shorts unit. The studio had by this time already produced several short propaganda films for the Ministry of Information, but Balcon's relationship with the MOI had soured, and he declared that Ealing would from now on initiate its own propaganda films. To this end, Balcon had set aside some £35,000 towards a slate of short documentaries. The first film to emerge from the unit was Young Veteran, Ealing's longest and most ambitious documentary to date.

The film's focus on the experiences of a young recruit enhances its emotional impact and gives journalist Michael Frank's closing commentary (quoted above) real poignancy. This approach was prompted by artist Robert St John Cooper's ubiquitous Daily Express cartoon featuring naïve soldier 'young Bert', which would have been very familiar to contemporary audiences. (The well-known wartime song 'We're Gonna Hang Out the Washing on the Siegried Line' was inspired by one of Cooper's young Bert cartoons).

In the film young Bert - and thousands like him - are shown being trained, equipped and despatched to the Front to repel the German advance. Meanwhile, back at home, under the shadow of raging air battles, members of the Home Guard are taught how to deal with a dive bomber and learn the tactics of guerilla warfare, including 'the monkey crawl'. Editor Charles Crichton's expert weaving of library footage with freshly-shot sequences guides us through the achievements and setbacks of the early phases of the war. Showing the low points, such as the chaotic evacuation of Dunkirk, alongside the high points gives the film a real dramatic charge.

Young Veteran was well-received by critics and - better still - by other documentarists, which seemed to vindicate 's decision to part company with the MOI.

Katy McGahan

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Video Clips
1. The enjoyments of peace time (1:25)
2. Thousands of young Berts (2:50)
3. The retreat from Dunkirk (3:22)
Complete film (22:23)
Dunkirk (1958)
New Lot, The (1943)
Nine Men (1943)
Raising Soldiers (1940)
Way Ahead, The (1944)
Ealing Studios (1938-59)
Ealing Propaganda Shorts