Rare film footage reveals excitement as soldiers march towards Western Front trenches

The Northern Echo: HIGH SPIRITS: A still from a film of soldiers attending a Highland Games event at Ripon Racecourse in 1916. HIGH SPIRITS: A still from a film of soldiers attending a Highland Games event at Ripon Racecourse in 1916.

RARE footage of soldiers preparing to leave for the Western Front has been released as part of an exhibition to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

The silent, black and white movies, which have been unearthed by the Yorkshire Film Archive, show soldiers performing bayonet exercises in North Yorkshire, crowds of women and children cheering marching troops marching through York to the trenches and a battalion being inspected in Scarborough in 1922.

One of the films, captures of the camaraderie of members of the Fifth Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment in 1915 as they cross Lendal Bridge and marching towards York train station and the excitement on onlookers walking alongside the soldiers.

It is believed some of the soldiers in the footage were killed months later in France, while others fought at Ypres.

Another film, shot at Ripon Racecourse in April 1916, shows what is believed to be the first Highland games south of the Scottish border, with footage of crowds and soldiers from a variety of regiments attending the event, the closing stages of a number of sprint races, soldiers on horseback carrying sacks leaping over fences.

The film, which was shot near the large Army training camp in the city and was later screened at the city’s Palladium Cinema, shows the soldiers in relaxed moods and even features a brief cameo from a man dressed up like Charlie Chaplin.

The archive’s project officer, Jonty Carr, said some of the films, which have been restored and digitalised in the Heritage Lottery Fund-backed project, were used after the war to raise funds for the families of soldiers killed in action.

He said: "There is a piece of extremely moving footage showing troops of the 1/5th Battalion (York and Lancaster Regiment) being inspected in the shadow of York Castle before marching off to war.

"The Battalion, mainly made up of volunteers from the Rotherham and Birdwell area, sailed to Boulogne in April of 1915 with many of its men never returning home.”

David Tattersfield, of The Western Front Association, said while moving images from the First World War remained rare, and those that are available were of varying quality, the archive had put a large amount of excellent quality footage into the public domain.

The archive hopes people will be able to help identify soldiers and civilians in the movies, with the aim of recounting their stories as part of an online exhibition which will be launched in the summer.

To view the films, visit filmedandnotforgotten.com

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