Themes

Pre-War Build-up

After the trauma of the First World War, it seemed inconceivable to many in Britain in the 1930s that another war with Germany was possible. However the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany from 1933, German re-armament, Germany’s plans for its territorial expansion in Central Europe and its involvement with the fascists parties of Italy and Spain made a new war begin to appear inevitable.

In Britain, an anti-war campaign hoped that through negotiations war could be prevented in spite of the National Government’s policies and actions related to re-armament. Sheffield Peace March (1936) represents this moment very well. Made by the Sheffield and District Workers Film Society, it shows anti-war protests through the streets of Sheffield. Members of the Labour Party, the Communist Party and Trade Unions carry placards with slogans such as ‘Sheffield Workers Unite for Peace’ and ‘Re-armament Means Profit to Big Business’.

By 1938 the potential for war with Germany increased dramatically, culminating with the Munich Crisis of late September. The issuing of gas masks and the digging of trenches at this time increased the tension and engendered real fear in the nation. The signing of the Munich Agreement by Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minster, on the 29th of September brought relief from this panic as it signified for many that war in Europe had been adverted. This is a Matter Which Vitally Concerns You and Southsea Review, both of 1938, capture the war mood of this year very well. Southsea Review shows not only the preparations for war with sandbags being laid in order to protect key buildings, the digging of air raid shelters and the testing of anti-aircraft guns but also, through a service of Thanksgiving in Portsmouth, how the nation was calmed by public knowledge of the Munich Agreement. The city and the nation rejoiced, not knowing of course that war in Europe would break out within a year.

Given these circumstances and despite the Munich Agreement, military camps and maneuvers (such as those seen in The Leicester Yeomanry (May 1939)) and civilian preparations for war that were found in 1938 continued into 1939. The Air Raid Precautions Act (ARP) had been passed in December 1937. It created an Air Raid Wardens' Service that was devoted to the protection of the population during aerial bombardments. ARP / Malton Evacuees (May 1939-1940) is an early example of an ARP film. It features an ARP Decontamination Squad practicing for a gas attack and also presents the preparations for the arrival of evacuees.

At the same time, many communities were continuing with their 'normal' activities sometimes seemingly unaffected by, or perhaps in spite of, the changes taking place, such as the celebrations seen in Gunnislake Carnival (August 1939).

After the German invasion of Poland, Britain declared war against Germany on 3 September 1939. The imagined and feared war was now a reality. ARP / Malton Evacuees also represents this transition as it presents the presence in late 1939 and throughout 1940 of actual evacuees from Hull in Malton. It was recognised that Hull and its sea port would be a major target for the Germans and Hull did suffer extensive damage during the war, especially during the Blitz of 1941.