[Scenes of Childhood 2]

Archive: Media Archive for Central England
ID No.: n/a
Title: [Scenes of Childhood 2]
Date: 1940-1945
Film-maker: William Arthur Willson
Colour: Colour
Sound: Silent
Duration of complete item: 13 min. 34 sec.
Themes: Children in War-time; Home & Family Life


Amateur film of the Willson family from Handsworth in Birmingham shot from 1940 to 1945. Focusing primarily on the children Edna Willson (born August 1939) and her brother William George Willson (born July 1944).


The film begins with a shot of a group of people sitting on a lawn, adults at the back of the group with several children sitting in front playing with toys. We then see Edna Willson drinking from a cup, a wider shot shows that she is having a picnic with her mother Gladys. "Christmas 1941": a family group is seen sitting at a table decorated with a small Christmas tree; in a living room Edna and other children, some wearing party hats, play with balloons, and a boy is seen unwrapping a present.

Outside, Edna is next seen sitting on a toy dog and being pushed across a lawn by her father William, a young boy approaches on a tricycle but falls off. A group of children play on the lawn with a toy stove set, the children pose for the camera. In the next scenes a visibly older Edna skips on the lawn with her mother. We then see Edna in a field holding a chicken; on a swing; riding a tricycle and picking a flower in the garden. In the next scene we see a family group standing outside a building for William George’s Christening in July 1944, Gladys is seen holding the baby; we then see close up shots of the baby and Edna holding him. Edna joins a group outside playing ‘ring-a-roses’ and ‘oranges and lemons’ and is next seen fruit picking. Close up shots of the baby and scenes of Edna with her new brother follow. Next we see Edna standing next to the family car and sitting in the back with William George, various shots of Edna, her brother with Gladys and William in a garden and with the car end the film.


In September 2005 Edna Handley of Solihull in Birmingham deposited a relatively large collection of films at MACE that were shot by her father, William Arthur Willson, between 1934 and the mid 1960s. The majority are on 16mm film and a large percentage are in colour. William worked at his father’s bakery, W E Willson and Sons Ltd, which was located on Great Barr Street, Birmingham, with his sister and three brothers.

In 1934 William married Gladys Emma Baines, daughter of George Baines, who ran a rival bakery, George Baines Ltd. on Finch Road in Handsworth. Gladys and her two brothers were directors of the bakery.

Their daughter Edna was born in August 1939 and at the beginning of the war she was evacuated to Herefordshire and then Warwickshire. However, neither arrangement worked and they soon returned to Handsworth once an underground air raid shelter had been constructed in the garden of the house.

During World War Two William remained at home because his was a reserved occupation, which is why he appears so frequently in this film and was able to attend the Christmas day festivities in 1941. His brothers were unable to be there because they were working in the bakery. However, he was not the only male in the house on that day as Gladys’ older brother, William Baines, was behind the camera. William Baines worked with the naturalist Peter Scott and while filming bats in a cave in the south of England they used powerful lamps to illuminate the subjects of the film. William brought these home with him and still had them in 1941 when they were used to provide enough light for images to register on the 16mm stock, a factor that many amateur film-makers didn’t take into consideration when filming interiors.

There are only two war time Christmases in the collection: 1940 and 1941. This is probably because of the difficulty of purchasing film stock during the war, William Willson being forced to prioritise the subjects of his filming.

After the war his interest in film-making blossomed as he started to edit material together using titling equipment to create intertitles.

[Scenes of Childhood 2] (1940-1945)

[Scenes of Childhood 2] (1940-1945)

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