Poignant messages home from our soldiers abroad

Private J Bowden, of Fylde, 1st N/Staff Regiment (Right)
Private J Bowden, of Fylde, 1st N/Staff Regiment (Right)
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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.

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

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.

Corporal A Hunter, of Preston, RAF Ceylon'Pic courtesy North West Film Archive

Corporal A Hunter, of Preston, RAF Ceylon'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 Burnley, 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.”

Private J Bowden, from North Shore, Blackpool – a member of the 1st N/Staff Regt can be seen on the film.

He greets his family, telling them: “It’s great to be able to speak to you in this way.”

He addresses his wife, telling her he hopes she is keeping well.

And he addresses his daughter, Bernie, telling her: “I hear you have grown into quite a big girl.

“I hope you are taking good care of Mummy, as you promised. Give my love to your gran.”

Corporal Austin Hunter, from Longton, Preston – a member of RAF Ceylon – addresses his beloved, presumably his wife.

He says: “Hello darling, I hope you are quite well, I am keeping well as you can see.

“Please give my love to mum and dad and I hope to be back with you soon.”

Private Fred Irving, of Nelson, from 12th Yorks Para, said: “Hello mother, father, sister and brothers.

“I hope as always this finds you the very best of health, as I personally am in the pink.

“I am receiving your mail quite regular, also I receive a great number of newspapers – I was very interested in the local news, especially the wedding group. My only wish being that I could have been there to enjoy myself as you did.

“By the way, how is my brother Roy going on about his deferment?

“I am quite pleased about the job myself and I hope he will continue to get deferred.”

Canteen assistant Tom Lambert, from Preston, of the NAAFI, tells his family: “I hope you are keeping well, as you can see I am. There’s not much to do here, only swimming, no women. All the best.”

And Leading Aircraftman J Nickson, of Preston, from RAF Ceylon, says: “Hope you feel as fit as I do.

“Remember me to all the family and to all my friends. I hope to be coming home some time next year, keep smiling.”

He also has a message for his parents, sending them his love and telling his mother: “I am sure you are looking forward to the party that you are going to give when your boys are home.”

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, or if you recognise a family member in the footage, visit www.nwfa.mmu.ac.uk, email blighty@mmu.ac.uk or call Marion Hewitt on 0161 247 3097.

• Pics courtesy of the North West Film Archive