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Topical Budget 246-1: Boy Munition Worker (1916)


Main image of Topical Budget 246-1: Boy Munition Worker (1916)
35mm, black and white, silent, 58 feet
Production CompanyTopical Film Company

A 13 year old boy making parts for searchlights.

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This film is one of a number of Topical Budget propaganda films showing workers in the munitions factories during the First World War. For the most part these were upbeat and showed young women operating machinery in clean and efficient looking workshops. This example shows a capstan lathe being operated by a woman, followed by a shot of a 13 year-old schoolboy operating the same piece of equipment. The introductory title informs us that they are making small parts for searchlights. Capstan lathes are designed for ease of use, so that a semiskilled worker could perform a number of jobs without much training, and as such the machines were considered suitable for girls and boys of quite young age. The most recent Factory Act, of 1901, had raised the age at which children could be employed to 12, so this 13-year-old was probably the youngest member of the workforce.

In the other newsreel items concerning munitions workers issued by the Topical Company - which was employed at this time directly by Government - much is made of the good conditions and the attention paid to the welfare of the employees. The danger of working with poisonous substances and explosive materials was underplayed - the choice to film something as innocuous as a searchlight was no doubt deliberate. Sporting fixtures, such as one between Arsenal and Tottenham (among whose players were said to be many munitions workers), were another favourite way of portraying these men, women and children.

Bryony Dixon

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