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Visit of Deputy PM Forde to UN Conference (1945)

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clip London, 1945 education content clip 2, 3

Original classification rating: not rated. This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

This is mute footage shot around London while Deputy Prime Minister Forde was attending the Commonwealth Statesmen’s Meeting held from 4 to 13 April 1945.

Curator’s notes

This footage was shot around London about a month prior to VE Day. It focuses on damage inflicted on buildings during the London Blitz, then goes on to include major landmarks like Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. But it’s the shots of Londoners, young and old, carrying on as usual, that capture something unique about the particular postwar moment.

The second section of the clip is shot at Gowrie House, location of the Australian Red Cross Society and prisoner of war repatriation centre. Mr Forde, accompanied by his wife, Vera Forde, addresses an appreciative audience of Red Cross workers. The clip finishes with a shot of the historic St Thomas’ Hospital and a pan across the Thames.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This silent black-and-white clip shows home-movie footage of London in April 1945 taken during a visit there by Australian deputy prime minister Francis Forde. It shows examples of the widespread damage caused by the Blitz, particularly to churches. The clip also features footage of famous landmarks such as Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and the Thames River, as well as Londoners in a park, including boys playing. The final part of the clip shows Forde and his wife Vera receiving an enthusiastic reception at Gowrie House, a repatriation centre run by the Australian Red Cross Society, and concludes with footage of St Thomas Hospital and scenic views of the Thames River.

Educational value points

  • Australia entered the Second World War (1939-45) in September 1939 after Germany invaded Poland. Prime minister Robert Menzies believed that Britain’s declaration of war against Germany automatically meant that Australia, as a self-governing Dominion in the British Empire, was also at war. As Australia’s foreign policy was at this time controlled by the British Government, Menzies placed Australian forces at Britain’s disposal. About 1 million Australian men and women served in the armed forces, including 560,000 servicemen who fought in campaigns against Germany and Italy in Europe, North Africa and the Mediterranean, and against Japan in the Pacific.
  • The Blitz was Germany’s sustained mass bombardment of London and other British cities from September 1940 to May 1941. The word 'blitz’ comes from the German word 'blitzkrieg’, meaning 'lightning war’. The Blitz targeted civilian and commercial districts rather than military sites, including populated areas, factories and dockyards. It was designed to break the morale of the British people, but in fact it united them. During the Blitz more than 18,000 tonnes of high explosives were dropped on England causing about 43,000 deaths (about half in London). One million houses were destroyed, causing about 1.4 million (one in six) Londoners to become homeless.
  • The clip shows significant buildings, including Westminster Abbey, the House of Commons and St Clement Danes Church, which were damaged on 29 December 1940, one of the worst nights of the Blitz. That night, the Germans dropped incendiary bombs that created a fire storm, devastating the area between St Paul’s Cathedral and the Guildhall. Fourteen churches designed by renowned 17th-century architect Sir Christopher Wren and built after the Great Fire of London of 1666 were destroyed. The Blitz reduced parts of London to rubble, incendiary bombs sweeping through entire streets.
  • During the Second World War, and in particular during the Blitz, Londoners were famed for carrying on as usual rather than being cowed by the mass bombings. Londoners became grimly determined to go on with their daily lives, and went to work, to cinemas and even restaurants (despite the limited food available). Many Londoners risked their lives nightly during the Blitz to carry out duties as volunteer wardens and ambulance drivers. While the footage in the clip was shot several years after the Blitz, it captures something of the spirit of Londoners, who carried on despite the destruction of vast areas of their city.
  • Francis 'Frank’ Forde (1890-1983) was deputy prime minister of Australia from 1941 to 1946 in both the Curtin and Chifley federal Labor governments. A Queenslander, Forde was elected to federal parliament in 1922, where he served as minister for trade (1931) in the Scullin government. In the Curtin government Forde was minister for the army (1941-46) and briefly minister for defence (1946). He also served as a member of the Advisory War Council, which included members of the Opposition. Forde was caretaker prime minister for eight days from 6 to 13 July 1945 after Curtin died in office and, despite being passed over for party leadership, he served both Curtin and Chifley with great loyalty until he lost his seat of Capricornia in 1946.
  • Forde was in London to attend the Commonwealth Statesmen’s Meeting in April 1945. The British Commonwealth of Nations at that time comprised Britain and its former colonies Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa as well as the Irish Free State. By 2005 there were 53 member states. Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meetings and Commonwealth Statesmen’s Meetings were held about every two years in London until the 1960s, and provided a forum to discuss global and Commonwealth issues. From 1971 they became known as Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM).
  • The Australian Red Cross Society ran a repatriation centre for prisoners of war (POWs) and wounded soldiers at Gowrie House in Eastbourne, Sussex, providing the repatriated men with food and accommodation. On arrival at the centre they were given new uniforms and a Red Cross parcel, and were allowed to send a free cable home. They also received a pay advance, 14 days leave and rail passes to explore Britain before returning to Gowrie House to await embarkation to Australia. According to the Australian War Memorial about 26,000 Australian soldiers were captured by the Axis powers (Germany and Italy), while a further 22,000 were taken prisoner by Japan.
  • The Red Cross played an important role in tracing and providing comfort to POWs and wounded soldiers during the Second World War. Both the Axis powers and the Allies gave the International Red Cross in Geneva details about POWs, which were then passed on to the relevant national Red Cross body. The Red Cross facilitated the delivery of correspondence and parcels to POWs and the Australian Red Cross established Wounded and Missing Inquiry Bureaus, both at home and overseas, to supply Australian families with information about missing and wounded soldiers.

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