Messages home from across the world

J Parry, of Thatto Heath, St Helens'Calling Blighty'Pic North West Film Archive

J Parry, of Thatto Heath, St Helens'Calling Blighty'Pic North West Film Archive

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They were thousands of miles away from their families – on the other side of the world.

Many away from home for the first time.

Unknown soldier from St Helens Calling Blighty'Pic North West Film Archive

Unknown soldier from St Helens Calling Blighty'Pic North West Film Archive

And they didn’t know when, or perhaps even if, they would ever get to see their loved ones again.

But the servicemen featured in these pictures, who were stationed in the Far East between 1944 and 1946, recorded touching personal messages on film for their family and friends.

And now the North West Film Archive is hoping to track those families down.

Calling Blighty is a series of short films, made in the mid 40s, which feature the individual servicemen and women sending, poignant personal messages – which were then shown to invited audiences in local cinemas, bringing much laughter and no doubt a few tears.

Canteen worker T Lambert, of Preston, NAAFI (RIGHT ON PIC) and Joe Howard of St Helens on the left'Pic courtesy North West Film Archive

Canteen worker T Lambert, of Preston, NAAFI (RIGHT ON PIC) and Joe Howard of St Helens on the left'Pic courtesy North West Film Archive

The men and women can be seen sometimes outside in the sun, sometimes indoors and occasionally in their mess, with cheerful music playing in the background.

All of them recorded a short 30 second clip greeting their families are wishing them well during their separation.

Of nearly 400 issues made, only 48 are known to survive.

Twenty-five were discovered in the North West and feature service personnel from Greater Manchester and various areas of Lancashire, including St Helens, Wigan, Preston, Blackpool and Chorley.

Nearly all were found, complete with the sheets of contact details showing the names and addresses of family and friends who were invited to the screenings.

Prof Steve Hawley, from the Manchester School of Art, said: “These few remaining films are a unique picture of young servicemen and women in the Far East, around VJ Day.

“As a research resource, this is priceless, and as a human document, the spirit and humour of the soldiers shine through in a very moving way.”

A Message Home is a project to try to find as many families and veterans as possible – to bring them together to experience the films again and to share their stories.

In the brief clips, some of the servicemen can be seen outside with their colleagues, some record their messages in small groups and sign off before handing over to the next one.

Some of the messages are filmed indoors, including some messages from several unknown soldiers from St Helens, where there appears to be a party taking place in the background.

The footage is partly-stilted, occasionally emotional, but mostly containing stiff upper-lip testimonies, filmed direct to camera in one take.

Most of the servicemen are keen to reassure their families they are fit and well, telling them “I’m in the pink” or even “I’m having a great time.”

J Parry, of Thatto Heath, St Helens – whose rank and regiment are not given – appears, saying: “Hello mum and dad. Hello baby and Ronnie, hope you are keeping fine.

“And Ruth, hope you too are keeping fine.

“I myself, as you can see, am in the pink.

“And Mary, keep the ol’ hammer rolling, we’ll be needing it.”

And canteen assistant, Joe Howard, from St Helens, has this message: “Hello everyone, hope you are all right, I am doing okay here. Lots of love and all the best.”

Several ‘unknown’ soldiers from St Helens have messages for their families.

One of them states: “It’s wonderful for you to be able to see us like this, especially after so long.”

Alongside the attempt to trace people now, a new film is being made by Prof Steve Hawley – combining some of the most interesting and appealing stories, sometimes funny, but always very moving.

This new film, and highlights from the original Calling Blighty issues, will be screened once again to audiences, including family and friends.

The screening will take place on Monday, November 23, at HOME, in Manchester – the city’s new cross arts venue. Other screenings are planned for later in the year.

And the North West Film Archive is working with Oxford Scientific Films and The Imperial War Museum, on a documentary entitled Calling Blighty and the war in the Far East – to be broadcast on Channel 4, early next year.

For more information, visit www.nwfa.mmu.ac.uk or call 0161 247 3097.