The Ordinary amid the Extraordinary

When it comes to history – particularly of the wartime variety – it is usually the grand event that has been captured for posterity. We’ve all seen the photos – devastated cities bombed to rubble; forlorn prisoners of war, ground down and awaiting an uncertain fate; intimate yet terrible pictures of the dead. Such scenes inform us of the brutality of war – the heroism and suffering of its players and the magnitude and importance of the event. But there are other moments, sometimes caught, which speak just as eloquently of the more mundane.

A series of over 100 propaganda films, commissioned by the British Council between 1941 and 1945, for consumption overseas have now been digitally re-mastered and reveal a fascinating, though rose-tinted, view of ordinary life during the war years. They are a treasure trove celebrating the stoicism and cheeriness of a put-upon nation, and are now available online.

Yes, it’s propaganda, but that doesn’t make it any less enticing. There’s a lot to look at…images of a beautiful bride emerging from her bombed house on her wedding day during the Blitz; images of two gas mask-wearing neighbours chatting about the days’ events…images of women and children cheerfully drinking tea in an underground shelter while up above their homes and friends are bombed to smithereens.

 Of course, these reels put a gloss on the reality of war for civilians but they also capture a spirit, a sense of community that is lacking today. At a time when we are all facing our own economic Blitz it might do us some good to look at these films…to see what true hardship is and how we can get through it. Well worth a look, as is this wonderful site.

 * film.britishcouncil.org/british-council-film-collection

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About historywithatwist

I am an Associate Editor with a national newspaper. I have a keen interest in history and in writing. I have published one novel, Tan, and am currently working on a sequel
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