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1915 on Film

As a nation steeled itself for a long war, cinemas offered desperately wanted information - and welcome distraction. Find out what Britain watched a century ago.

Despite promises, the War clearly wasn't over by Christmas 1914, so the cinema business dug in for the long haul. Newsreels, comedies, animation and dramas all covered war subjects, though producers made sure audiences could enjoy more escapist fare, too. Meanwhile the still-young feature film continued its inexorable advance. With 20 million people visiting cinemas each week, exhibitors could have a real impact, recruiting and raising funds - notably for ambulances to go to the Front – and organising community screenings of Roll of Honour films to commemorate local men lost or wounded. Inevitably, film producers focused on war subjects, and although newsreel cameras were still banned from the fighting, images of allied troops away from the Front were a regular feature of newsreels - and of course the home front was covered extensively. The war profoundly affected drama too. The first ever version of the Edith Cavell story, Nurse and Martyr, was rushed out only a month after her death at the hands of a German firing squad, and the cinema offered escape through the new long features, which continued to grow in popularity with historical subjects like Jane Shore, a lavish medieval spectacle.

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Patrol in the Desert
Patrol in the Desert
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Patrol in the Desert

Non-Fiction19153 mins

Shades of Lawrence of Arabia in a worn but often beautiful film of WWI desert exercises in Egypt.

Outposts of Empire
Outposts of Empire
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Outposts of Empire

Non-Fiction19151 mins

British troops try to coax and cajole their pack animals on to a military supply train, but they're stubborn as mules...

Anti-German War Cartoons
Anti-German War Cartoons
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Anti-German War Cartoons

Trick film19155 mins

Follow the lightning-quick hand of the artist behind a series of comic cartoon sketches poking fun at the enemy during WWI.

Preston and District Roll of Honour, 6th, 7th, 5th Series
Preston and District Roll of Honour, 6th, 7th, 5th Series
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Preston and District Roll of Honour, 6th, 7th, 5th Series

Roll of Honour film191514 mins

A rare surviving WWI memorial film, featuring poignant images of men killed or injured serving in the armed forces.

Little Pippin
Little Pippin
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Little Pippin

Drama191514 mins

An abandoned baby girl is found in an apple barrel and adopted by a humble grocer in this sentimental wartime fiction.

In Ancient Sussex
In Ancient Sussex
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In Ancient Sussex

Non-Fiction19157 mins Location: Chichester

Attractive travelogue exploring famous old Sussex landmarks, taking in views including Chichester, Lewes, Arundel and Bosham.

Alexandra Rose Day in Sheffield
Alexandra Rose Day in Sheffield
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Alexandra Rose Day in Sheffield

Non-Fiction19155 mins Location: Sheffield

A rare film of Sheffield in 1915 with well-to-do women of the city out selling flowers on the streets to raise money for Alexandra Rose Day, and visiting recently wounded soldiers.

Preston and District Roll of Honour, 10th Series
Preston and District Roll of Honour, 10th Series
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Preston and District Roll of Honour, 10th Series

Roll of Honour film19152 mins Location: Preston

Moving record of relatives waving a fond farewell to departing loved ones during WWI.

E13 Avenged
E13 Avenged
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E13 Avenged

Animation & Artists Moving Image19151 mins

Pioneering visual graphics – with added cotton wool – recreate an incendiary WWI incident involving a stricken British submarine.

Conscription
Conscription
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Conscription

Comedy19158 mins

The nation's menfolk try anything to avoid being 'called up' in this raucous WWI comedy.

Recruiting for the 5th Essex
Recruiting for the 5th Essex
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Recruiting for the 5th Essex

Non-Fiction19155 mins Location: Chelmsford

High-spirited and eager Essex lads go through their paces in a rush to serve for King and Country.

Heart of a Coster
Heart of a Coster
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Heart of a Coster

Drama191512 mins

Follow the sibling rivalries of two cockney costermongers in this only surviving reel of a dynamic drama.

War Time Weddings
War Time Weddings
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War Time Weddings

Non-Fiction19151 mins Location: Westminster

The daughter of famed actor-manager Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree gets hitched to a military Captain during WWI.

Pimple's Uncle
Pimple's Uncle
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Pimple's Uncle

Comedy191514 mins

This daft comedy stars funny-duo Fred and Joe Evans in a battle to secure an inheritance from an insane uncle.

Scottie and the Frogs
Scottie and the Frogs
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Scottie and the Frogs

Comedy19157 mins

A mischievous youth causes havoc with his amphibian-assisted antics.

First World War Cartoon - Joffre
First World War Cartoon - Joffre
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First World War Cartoon - Joffre

Trick film19151 mins

A cartoonist sketches out the grim stalemate of WWI through the metaphor of football.

Eyes of the Fleet: A Destroyer Flotilla Scouting
Eyes of the Fleet: A Destroyer Flotilla Scouting
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Eyes of the Fleet: A Destroyer Flotilla Scouting

Non-Fiction1915 mins

A fleeting (sorry) but reassuring glimpse of a flotilla of Royal Navy destroyers on the skyline during WWI.

Dicky Dee's Cartoons No.3
Dicky Dee's Cartoons No.3
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Dicky Dee's Cartoons No.3

Animation & Artists Moving Image19155 mins

An edible bomb is cooked by the Kaiser in this fun WWI cartoon, which mixes propaganda with fantasy as a boy's dreams turn into nightmares.

Rogues of London
Rogues of London
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Rogues of London

Drama191551 mins

Charismatic silent star Fred Paul is cast against type as a real rotter preying on innocents in the big city, in an enjoyably lurid London melodrama.

John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 4
John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 4
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John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 4

Animation & Artists Moving Image19155 mins

An animated recreation of the sinking of the Lusitania is the centrepiece of this pioneering mix of comedy, satire and outrage in cartoon propaganda.

Salving a Steamer
Salving a Steamer
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Salving a Steamer

Non-Fiction19151 mins

“Chicago’s Titanic” the S.S. Eastland, a Great Lakes passenger ship in which 844 people lost their lives, is brought up from the seabed.

More Canadians Coming!
More Canadians Coming!
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More Canadians Coming!

Non-Fiction19151 mins

Welcome help from the Empire! And Pathé's newsreel cameraman is on the spot.

The Man Who Came Back
The Man Who Came Back
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The Man Who Came Back

191414 mins

The son of a wealthy merchant fakes his own death to join up, but his heroic act at the Front is wrongly attributed to his cowardly cousin.

Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve
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Christmas Eve

Drama191517 mins

A heart-tugging moral melodrama with echoes of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

A Pencil and Alick P.F. Ritchie
A Pencil and Alick P.F. Ritchie
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A Pencil and Alick P.F. Ritchie

Animation & Artists Moving Image19157 mins

More chalk-talker than pencil-pusher, this popular artist recreates his cartoons for the screen with flashes of added animation.

Tommy's Tinder Box
Tommy's Tinder Box
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Tommy's Tinder Box

Non-Fiction19152 mins

How to light your fag the old-fashioned way: tinder boxes are made for soldiers at the Front, replacing matches in the rain-soaked trenches.

Asquith Wedding
Asquith Wedding
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Asquith Wedding

Non-Fiction19151 mins Location: Westminster

Violet Asquith, daughter of the Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, arrives at church to marry Maurice Bonham Carter.

In the Track of the Zepps
In the Track of the Zepps
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In the Track of the Zepps

Non-Fiction19152 mins

Our chaps can do it again! Meet the brave men who tackled Zeppelin airships for a living during WWI.

Wife the Weaker Vessel
Wife the Weaker Vessel
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Wife the Weaker Vessel

Comedy191510 mins

A henpecked husband plots revenge on his boastful bachelor friend by marrying him to a seemingly meek girl who turns out to be anything but.

Kite Balloons
Kite Balloons
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Kite Balloons

Non-Fiction19152 mins

A Lilliputian army battles with a giant wartime observation balloon before it's towed out to sea.

G.P. As Basil the Brainless
G.P. As Basil the Brainless
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G.P. As Basil the Brainless

Comedy191530 mins

The comic capers of upper-class wastrel Basil the Brainless - thrown out by his father and sent to the country, where he tries to get a job on a poultry farm...

Russia's Idol
Russia's Idol
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Russia's Idol

Non-Fiction19152 mins

Glimpses of Russia's doomed aristocracy - walking tall, before the revolution brought them low.

The Lure of Drink
The Lure of Drink
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The Lure of Drink

Drama191537 mins Location: Ealing

A lurid temperance tale warning of the evils of wicked women and the demon drink.

To Aid the Motherland
To Aid the Motherland
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To Aid the Motherland

Non-Fiction19151 mins Location: Salisbury Plain

Poignant scenes capture a moment’s relaxation for a Canadian cavalry unit on Salisbury Plain.

Peasantry around Smyrna before the War
Peasantry around Smyrna before the War
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Peasantry around Smyrna before the War

Non-Fiction19157 mins

Spellbinding scenes of peasant life in the remote and rural villages of Western Anatolia, modern-day Turkey.

Russia's Great Haul
Russia's Great Haul
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Russia's Great Haul

Non-Fiction19154 mins

Striking visual record of a prisoner-of-war camp on World War One’s Eastern Front.

Fight for the Dardanelles
Fight for the Dardanelles
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Fight for the Dardanelles

Animation & Artists Moving Image19159 mins

Witness the birth of motion graphics in news reporting amid the ongoing Gallipoli campaign during WWI.

Vengeance of Nana
Vengeance of Nana
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Vengeance of Nana

Drama191511 mins

Only a fragment survives of this lurid tale of an Indian girl's revenge against her English lover.

Nurse and Martyr
Nurse and Martyr
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Nurse and Martyr

Biopic191511 mins

The moving true story of wartime heroine Nurse Edith Cavell, recreated in the aftermath of her execution.

World War One Troops Inspection
World War One Troops Inspection
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World War One Troops Inspection

Non-Fiction19151 mins Location: London

Brigades of stretcher-bearers and Cyclist Corps soldiers straighten their spines for parade. But who? And where?

Midnight Mail
Midnight Mail
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Midnight Mail

Crime19159 mins

Knowledge of Morse code and having a train driver as a sweetheart come in handy in this ‘race to the rescue’ crime thriller.

Belgian Congo Native Troops
Belgian Congo Native Troops
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Belgian Congo Native Troops

Non-Fiction19151 mins

World War One reportage from intrepid filmmaker Cherry Kearton - glimpsed in an early 'selfie'.

British Nurses in Serbia
British Nurses in Serbia
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British Nurses in Serbia

Non-Fiction19151 mins

Powerful newsreel images of displaced Serbians seeking help at a British military base during WWI.

Memorial Procession in English Country Town
Memorial Procession in English Country Town
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Memorial Procession in English Country Town

Non-Fiction1915 mins Location: Stratford-upon-Avon

Top-hatted gents (one Japanese) parade through the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon to mark Shakespeare's birthday and St George's Day.

Seeing the New Year In
Seeing the New Year In
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Seeing the New Year In

Non-Fiction19151 mins

A boisterous band of Allied troops makes merry in the face of an uncertain future.

Citizen Army Inspected
Citizen Army Inspected
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Citizen Army Inspected

Non-Fiction19151 mins Location: Beckenham

Colonel Lord Harris provides appropriate decorum and formality for a volunteer inspection in Beckenham during WWI.

Merrie Territorials
Merrie Territorials
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Merrie Territorials

Non-Fiction19151 mins

Boisterous Territorial soldiers put on a show in Islington.

His Birthday Present
His Birthday Present
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His Birthday Present

Animation & Artists Moving Image19151 mins

Was the root of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s power his 'Imperial Moustache'?

More Ammunition
More Ammunition
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More Ammunition

Non-Fiction19151 mins

Children witness soldiers stockpiling weapons for war in this edition of the Topical Budget newsreel.

Garibaldians Help Recruiting Warriors of 1867 at the Head of a Recruiting March
Garibaldians Help Recruiting  Warriors of 1867 at the Head of a Recruiting March
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Garibaldians Help Recruiting Warriors of 1867 at the Head of a Recruiting March

Non-Fiction19151 mins

Veterans of the 1867 Garibaldi campaign lead a WWI recruiting march in Walham Green near Fulham Broadway.

Munition Workers at Play
Munition Workers at Play
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Munition Workers at Play

Non-Fiction19151 mins Location: Tottenham

A large crowd of munitions workers take a break from the factory to watch Arsenal beat Spurs 2-0 during the First World War.

Battlefield Romance
Battlefield Romance
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Battlefield Romance

Non-Fiction19151 mins Location: Crabbet Park

Picturesque scenes as war-time sweethearts tie the knot at the beautiful Crabbet Park country estate.

On the March
On the March
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On the March

Non-Fiction19151 mins

Soldiers troop down a leafy Surrey lane in this intriguing wartime newsreel item.

Ramsgate Zeppelin Raid. Showing Damage Done to the Bull and George Hotel.
Ramsgate Zeppelin Raid. Showing Damage Done to the Bull and George Hotel.
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Ramsgate Zeppelin Raid. Showing Damage Done to the Bull and George Hotel.

Non-Fiction19151 mins Location: Ramsgate

Public anxiety about war from the air is all too real for the people of Ramsgate in this newsreel footage of the aftermath of a Zeppelin raid.

Ireland Welcomes O'Leary V.C.
Ireland Welcomes O'Leary V.C.
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Ireland Welcomes O'Leary V.C.

Non-Fiction19151 mins

In Dublin the newsreel cameras capture a hero’s welcome for a decorated Irish Guardsman.

World War One Motor Ambulance Inspection
World War One Motor Ambulance Inspection
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World War One Motor Ambulance Inspection

Non-Fiction19151 mins

A curious display of new ambulance vehicles specially built for war service.

Gaumont Graphic No. 438
Gaumont Graphic No. 438
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Gaumont Graphic No. 438

Non-Fiction19151 mins Location: London

War is declared in Italy, while a returning hero is welcomed in London.

German Trenches after Three Day's Bombardment
German Trenches after Three Day's Bombardment
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German Trenches after Three Day's Bombardment

Non-Fiction19151 mins

All quiet on Germany's Western Front, but the ferocity of Allied artillery bombardment is plain to see in these eerie scenes of carnage.

Red Cross Barges
Red Cross Barges
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Red Cross Barges

Non-Fiction19151 mins

Travelling with the Red Cross ambulance flotillas through Montereau in central northern France.

Heroes of Neuve Chapelle
Heroes of Neuve Chapelle
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Heroes of Neuve Chapelle

Non-Fiction19151 mins Location: Shorncliffe Camp

Casualties from the Battle of Neuve Chapelle enjoy their recuperation in Kent.

Funeral at the Front
Funeral at the Front
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Funeral at the Front

Non-Fiction19151 mins

Sombre and moving World War I newsreel story.

More Men Wanted
More Men Wanted
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More Men Wanted

Non-Fiction19151 mins

An MP's stirring speech moves the crowd to rapturous applause and the occasional tear at a recruitment rally for Kitchener's New Army.

Gaumont Graphic No. 406
Gaumont Graphic No. 406
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Gaumont Graphic No. 406

Non-Fiction19155 mins Location: Buckingham Palace

This intriguing and beautifully-shot newsreel features sea-faring heroes, feisty females and a generous lick of paint for a Mississippi steamship.

Labour's Recruiting Appeal
Labour's Recruiting Appeal
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Labour's Recruiting Appeal

Non-Fiction19151 mins Location: Trafalgar Square

Stirring scenes in Trafalgar Square as Labour MP Will Thorne rallies recruits for the war effort.

Gaumont Graphic No. 433
Gaumont Graphic No. 433
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Gaumont Graphic No. 433

Non-Fiction19154 mins

Glory, injury, protest and death: aspects of war captured in a complete edition of the Gaumont Graphic newsreel.

Gaumont Graphic No. 440
Gaumont Graphic No. 440
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Gaumont Graphic No. 440

Non-Fiction19155 mins Location: Epsom

A brave young soldier receives the Victoria Cross - just one stirring newsreel story on this complete WWI-era edition of Gaumont Graphic.

Frontiersmen Inspected by Sir Francis Lloyd
Frontiersmen Inspected by Sir Francis Lloyd
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Frontiersmen Inspected by Sir Francis Lloyd

Non-Fiction19151 mins Location: Westminster

Major-General Francis Lloyd, responsible for the defence of London during WWI, scrutinises a line of volunteers.

French Machine Gun in the Wooded Country of the Argonne
French Machine Gun in the Wooded Country of the Argonne
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French Machine Gun in the Wooded Country of the Argonne

Non-Fiction19151 mins

A small band of French soldiers take to the woods of the Argonne in this military exercise - probably staged for the camera.

St George's Day at Stratford-on-Avon
St George's Day at Stratford-on-Avon
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St George's Day at Stratford-on-Avon

Non-Fiction19151 mins Location: Stratford-upon-Avon

Proud locals hold a double celebration in Shakespeare's home town.

War Scenes in Italy
War Scenes in Italy
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War Scenes in Italy

Non-Fiction19151 mins

In Milan's Piazza del Duomo a crowd gathers to hear news of Italy's entry into WWI.

Sharps and Flats
Sharps and Flats
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Sharps and Flats

Comedy191511 mins

The Bamforth Company translate their saucy seaside postcard humour into film comedy.

A Trip through Bosnia
A Trip through Bosnia
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A Trip through Bosnia

Travelogue19156 mins

Peaceful Sarajevo and the picturesque Pliva Falls at Jajce

The Otter
The Otter
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The Otter

Interest film19128 mins

Pioneering early nature film with scenes of an otter swimming underwater

Studdy's War Cartoons
Studdy's War Cartoons
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Studdy's War Cartoons

Animation & Artists Moving Image19156 mins

Animated WWI-era comic highlights from the innovative cartoonist George Studdy, creator of Bonzo the dog.

Jane Shore
Jane Shore
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Jane Shore

Historical drama191579 mins

Early attempt at medieval epic with impressive locations

Lord Kitchener at the Guildhall The Great War Minister Received by the Lord Mayor at the Ancient City Hall for the Opening of a Three Weeks' Recruiting Cam Aign Warwick Bioscope Chronicle No. 261-2
Lord Kitchener at the Guildhall  The Great War Minister Received by the Lord Mayor at the Ancient  City Hall for the Opening of a Three Weeks' Recruiting Cam  Aign  Warwick Bioscope Chronicle No. 261-2
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Lord Kitchener at the Guildhall The Great War Minister Received by the Lord Mayor at the Ancient City Hall for the Opening of a Three Weeks' Recruiting Cam Aign Warwick Bioscope Chronicle No. 261-2

Non-Fiction19151 mins Location: City of London

Horatio Herbert Kitchener, the face of WWI, takes a break from pointing his finger to inspect recruits at London’s Guildhall

Women Work While Men Fight
Women Work While Men Fight
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Women Work While Men Fight

Non-Fiction19151 mins

British women didn't sit idly at home while their men fought in WWI – they got stuck in to useful work

Pimple Has One
Pimple Has One
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Pimple Has One

Comedy19156 mins

The mischievous Pimple takes to the bottle in this entertaining comedy

Music Hall Act
Music Hall Act
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Music Hall Act

Trick film19151 mins

Time for the Harlequinade: the traditional topsy-turvy act of the Christmas pantomime

The Mystery of a London Flat
The Mystery of a London Flat
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The Mystery of a London Flat

Crime191511 mins

A burglar confesses to killing a woman in this incomplete early crime drama.

Mysteries of London
Mysteries of London
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Mysteries of London

Crime191549 mins Location: London

Romantic melodrama about a woman who loses both her parents and innocently falls in with a bad crowd.

A Hero of the Trenches
A Hero of the Trenches
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A Hero of the Trenches

War19159 mins

The first reel of a short film about two lonely people, a seamstress and a soldier, finding love over a shirt.

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The Sinking of RMS Lusitania
The Sinking of RMS Lusitania
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The Sinking of RMS Lusitania

Remembering one of Britain's worst maritime disasters and a pivotal moment of World War One.