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With a Skirmishing Party in Flanders (1915)


Main image of With a Skirmishing Party in Flanders (1915)
35mm, black and white, silent, 419 feet
Production CompanyTopical Film Company
Camera OperatorF.W. Engholm

In Flanders in the early months of the First World War, soldiers advance through scrubland prior to capturing a German prisoner.

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This news item features rare WWI footage taken on the battlefields of Flanders, some of the last genuine frontline footage until the tail-end of WWI. The potent images were shot for a special war series issued by the Topical Film Company by cameraman F.W. Engholm just a few months before war minister Lord Kitchener issued an order preventing all filming from the Front.

The story combines faked and actual footage to portray scenes on the field of battle as we follow a party of British troops travelling through ruined towns and engaging the enemy. A training exercise perhaps, but for the audience at home the close shots created an authentic sensation of battlefield action.

Even before Lord Kitchener's decision, cameramen were viewed with suspicion during hostilities, as a contemporary journal reported at the time:

"...the British military authorities are against cinematographers going to the front... The difficulties of the cinematographer, naturally, are infinitely worse than those of the ordinary still-picture man. He has, for such times, a cumbersome apparatus to trail about with, and this impedes his action, for he cannot set it up, take his picture and hustle it away before the crowd become aware of his intentions." (The Bioscope, 20 August 1914)

Under such restrictions, Topical Budget limited itself to stories from the home front: recruitment processions, caring for the wounded, troops on leave, sport, women's work for the war effort. The result is an immensely valuable record of wartime Britain.

However, by early 1917 the government had recognised that film could be a useful propaganda tool, and Topical Budget became the War Office Official Topical Budget until the end of hostilities, with a new privileged access to the Front.

Jan Faull

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