In incredible documentary, Messages Home, airing on Sunday 19 November at 7.00pm on Channel 4, recently rediscovered World War II footage reveals British soldiers in Burma recording filmed messages to their loved ones back home. These extraordinary films reveal stories including a lovelorn gunner yearning for his sweetheart, a father speaking to a daughter he’d never met, a decorated war hero traumatised by the lives he took and a special operations ‘Chindit’ who saw action behind enemy lines but told his family he was a ‘cabbage mechanic’ in the catering corps. The heart-warming films were found in old film canisters in a Manchester Town Hall basement and offer a glimpse into the lives of these courageous servicemen as they endured long periods of separation from their homes while serving in Asia.
These British troops who were stationed in India, Burma and Sri Lanka – fighting a relentless Burmese Campaign against a fearsome Japanese foe – regarded themselves as The Forgotten Army. Home leave wasn’t possible, post was slow, and sometimes letters didn’t get home at all. Some left behind pregnant wives, elderly parents who would pass away before they returned, or young children who barely recognised them when they came home. Morale was low, so the Ministry of Defence decided upon a scheme to provide a boost for the soldiers and their families. Between 1944 and 1946 the Directorate of Army Welfare in India recorded a series of short films titled’Calling Blighty.’
The films – a series of personal messages home to loved ones – were sent back, and families were invited to cinema screenings to try to catch a glimpse of their relatives on screen. Tragically, some of the soldiers had died by the time the films reached home. The reels found in Manchester feature servicemen from across the north west of England. Seventy years on, the North West Film Archive set out to track down the veterans and their families featured in the Calling Blighty messages and invited them to a special screening of the films.
Exec Prod: Emma Morgan
Prod/Dir: Paul Berczeller
Prod Co: Oxford Scientific Films
Messages Home: Lost Films Of The British Army airs Sunday 19 November 2017 from 7.00pm-8.00pm on Channel 4.