Review of the First World War: Life on the Home Front in North West England
A DVD from the North West Archive – in The Rake at The Dukes, Moor Lane, Lancaster.
“As a regional contribution to the commemorations of the First World War, The North West Film Archive has produced a new DVD compilation of historic footage shot around the North West of England, from the first 20 years of the 20th century.
“This was shown at The Dukes, Lancaster – only its second ever public screening after its premiere in Manchester. Manchester Metropolitan University’s Marion Hewitt (the NWFA’s director), provided a lurid and interesting introduction to this new regional contribution to the commemoration of the world’s first global conflict.
“During the varied and comprehensive compilation of just over an hour, we saw footage from as far as south as Altrincham and Stockport, to Carlisle and the Scottish border in the north and from Egremont in the west, to Saddleworth on the border of Yorkshire. The region’s largest cities of Liverpool and Manchester were featured, along with the smaller industrial towns and the seaside resorts of Blackpool and Morecambe.
“There was also moving footage of troops setting off by train for, ultimately, the Somme, in 1915 from Lancaster’s Castle station.
“The programme started with some footage of everyday life in the prosperous days before war broke out, when more than 350 Lancashire colliers employed over 100,000 men – and women too.
“The cotton industry was, however, the region’s largest employer with an annual output of seven billion yards of cloth and contributing 25 per cent of Britain’s total exports.
“We then moved forward to the 1913 royal visit of King George VI and Queen Mary. They visited 37 towns and cities in eight hectic days, not least Rochdale, near where it is thought Her Majesty was offered the use of an outside privy of a local weaver. But the crowds flocked to see them, with more than 3,000 schoolchildren in Bacup alone turning out en masse.
“We also saw footage of the Manchester Police Force training, and evocative views of horse ambulances, which would soon be supplanted by the more efficient motor models. It was 1914 when the first women served in the police, with the rise of the Suffragettes, the age of equal opportunities was dawning.
“There was fascinating coverage of newly-recruited (and later conscripted) troops in training. There were shots of what looked very much like the former Bowerham Barracks, which are now the University of Cumbria’s Lancaster campus, formerly St Martin’s College. There was also glimpses of soldiers training in Morecambe and Blackpool.
“Next we saw some fascinating shots of the anti-German riots in Liverpool, after the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania and the Formby lifeboat being launched by horsepower. Local heroes who had been awarded the Victoria Cross, including Pte William Young of Preston, were seen.
“The commentary, ably delivered in a suitably regional accent by Maxine Peake, included some daunting statistics of the losses suffered in a these parts – most famous by the Accrington Pals, one of many northern battalions who ‘rallied to the cause.’
“The evening concluded sombrely, noting the collapse of the cotton and coal industries after 1918 as Britain’s political, social and economic systems changed so radically.
“We also saw footage of the erection and unveiling of memorials to the men who died during the Great War across the entire region – in the larger towns as well as smaller communities like Carnforth.
“This worthwhile DVD is a fine record of local life from around 100 years ago, and a fitting commemoration of a significant milestone in our regional and national history.”