Still soldiering on

 

Lt Col Hugh Stewart, the founder of the Unit in 1941, passed away this year, aged 100.

more will follow

 

 

 



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AFPU at NMA
From Flour To Film...A Royal Occasion
Did page three start there?
Lt Col Hugh Stewart
Putting it on record
Then and Now
Remembering all Past Members

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A  Day Celebrating Seventy Years

Almost to the day of the formation of the Unit in October 1941, Lord David Puttnam opened the celebratory lunch at the Imperial War Museum .. more

When You’re A Smiler

In the 70 years since the formation of the Unit few books have covered the exploits of the AFPU. Now a new book, “When You’re a Smiler”, has been  written by Nigel Smales, son of Eddie ‘Smiler’ Smales ... more

The annual morning of Remembrance will be at Pinewood Studios on Tuesday the 11th assembling at 10.15am.

 

AFPU at NMA

The National Memorial Arboretum is just a mile off the A38 near Lichfield and is a memorial to those who have lost their lives since World WarII. It is a vast site on sand and gravel excavations, soon to be extended when that operation closes.

Formally opened by HM The Queen in 2007, work is in hand to improve the facilities to address the growing numbers attending due to it’s success, so much so that it now embraces memorials specially dedicated to Regiments, Naval and RAF operations including a copse with as many trees as Merchant Navy ships were sunk in WWII.

Another area is especially dedicated to young children.

The Association of Special Forces have their own grove which commemorates many of the lesser, and to some, unknown units of operation such as Force 136, D Force, those lost in the Dieppe Raid, together with special campaigns in post war actions so easily forgotten.

The AFPU were often deployed with Special Forces, Sgt. Basil Wishart was with the Chindits, Sgt. John Herbert with the Long Range Desert Group, and Sgts. Smith, Walker and Lewis covered the Airborne action at  Arnhem. The No 1 Commando landings on D Day  were well recorded and photographs confirm the exact times of the landings.

Now, The Association has invited us to place a commemorative plaque in The Allied Special Forces Grove, located just inside the entrance gate. An appeal for donations has enabled the production of an etched and enamelled plaque 9½” wide, designed by Paul Clark. Now completed, a dedication is being planned for late April/ early May 2010.

Relatives and friends of former members who may not be on our mailing list will be welcome to attend.

For further information contact Paul Clark, details on the contact page.

From Flour To Film...A Royal Occasion

Only four years before the formation of the AFPU a Yorkshire flour miller founded Pinewoood Studios between Slough and Uxbridge in Buckinghamshire at Iver Heath.

There, in 1937, Methodist and flour miller J. Arthur Rank from Hull launched the Studio and what was to become the Rank Organisation in 1944, now heavily involved in casinos, bingo and online gambling. Pre war the British film industry worked out of studios such as Denham, Ealing, Wembley, and several others long gone. Pinewood and Shepperton are now merged.

The original entrance adjacent to the water tower became the Guard Room during the war. Post war, with only minor changes, the building became reception, and was still in use almost 70 years later. All the buildings familiar to  the AFPU remain but the modern area around the 007 Stage must have inspired the directors to celebrate the 70th anniversary of The Studio by commissiong a futuristic new entrance.

HM The Queen was invited to open it and after a tour of the Studio accompanied by Michael Grade three members of the AFPU, reflecting their part of the Studio's history, were presented to Her Majesty.

Paul Clark explained the background of the Unit and their presence before introducing Les Ostinelli, No1 Unit, Cairo, who was away four and a half years, later to become Technical Director for Technicolour. Hugh Stewart, OC. is the only surviving officer,  now 99,  and responsible for the founding and running of the Unit until it ended in 1946. Returning to the film industry, he produced all Norman Wisdom's films.

As was to be expected, many of the cameramen, technicians and support staff from pre war studios became members of the AFPU and other service photographic Units. Pinewood became the HQ of the AFPU.

After an introduction to Army life several returned to the very seats they occupied only weeks previously. Many former members returned after the war to resume their careers while several others successfully adapted their wartime training to the film industry.

Our picture shows Paul Clark introducing Les Ostinelli to The Queen with Hugh Stewart on the right.

Did page three start there?

One of the delights of Christmas is to receive a bromide print photographic Christmas card from Sheila Hardy, printed from Bert's negative file.
As keeper of the files, Sheila is well informed of the content and over the years the subjects have been varied and as you would expect, of the highest quality.
In post war years a number of names previously associated with The Unit came to the fore, Roy Bolting, Peter Handford, Derek Knight, Alan Whicker, but non more prominently than photojournalist Bert Hardy, whose photography and name live on setting the standard to which many aspire.
Few will fail to recall the iconic cover on Picture Post, taken with a simple holiday snap camera of the two girls with skirts blowing, on the railings of Blackpool promenade which, along with others taken while on the staff are now in the Getty Museum.
Another famous picture, taken in his commercial practice, was the lone figure on the Thames bridge, smoking a cigarette, and displayed on street posters with the caption "You're never alone with a Strand".  The photograph was so compelling that the advertising campaign was withdrawn as it evoked too much sympathy for the man.
Such was the impression made on the visual world that a Blue Plaque has been placed on the very house in which he was born, in London's East End. The unveiling was attended by son Michael as regrettably Sheila was briefly indisposed.

 

Now she is wading through the commercial files which Getty wish to add to their collection. Bert's AFPU tour finished in 1946 in Singapore, with a 'swan' to Bali where he photographed temples and Balinese dancers. For those that were in SEAC then he is
perhaps best remembered for the picture which appeared on the front  page of the "Straits Times" which set the world alight, a three quarter length shot of one of the girls...topless!

 

 

Putting it on record

Too few are aware of the existence of AFPU, and its valuable contribution in documenting Allied action in WW11. As noted in these pages few, if any, complete records exist of the story of the Unit.

Ian Grant's story "Cameramen at War" was of his personal experiences and recollections from D Day to Denmark, valuable but not the whole story.

When we were approached for contacts as a forerunner to a thesis for a PhD which was to take three years to complete, it seemed a life time away and, sadly for some, it was. Following unfortunate delays, five years on we are excited by the prospect of the publication of a book which we are sure will put on record The British Army Film & Photographic Unit in World War Two.

When Fred McGlade researched for a Masters paper into British film censorship in WW11 it became apparent to him that a highly influential group of cameramen and photographers had been almost ignored when the history of the conflict was recorded by scholars and those interested in the war. Surprisingly,  their visual records of action and the horrors of war had become some of the most frequently used material by film makers, TV and publishers.

With few exceptions, as with all such materials, accreditation is attributed to the IWM, keepers of official archives.  Would that former AFPU members had received royalties on some of the images, also a contention of the USA Forces Combat Cameramen's Association.

When Paul Clark was first invited to provide a liaison link with surviving members of the Unit he quickly realised that this could be what the Unit needed and had waited for, for so long.

Fred visited and video interviewed the 26 members then available, many sadly no longer with us. These, together with information gleaned from members correspondence and the Association's newsletters over the years, were added to vast research in the National Archives at Kew, "Dope Sheets", and negative and film files at the Imperial War Museum which provided the material accepted by Helion Publishers, hopefully to appear in book form in September.

To all those who contributed to what we hope will be "Putting it on record"
Fred says "Thank you"! 

Remembering all past members

Each year an act of Remembrance has been held at Pinewood Studios, generously hosted by the Directors.
In recent years it has been gratifying for the hospitality to be extended to photographers of today, thanks to the networking of  Anne Runeckles, who has established the bond which we are now enjoying.
Last year we were delighted to welcome Master Photographer WO l Fiona Stapley and several of her staff, who after the formality were thrilled to accompany Anne on a tour of the studio.
Our picture, kindly supplied by Media Ops., shows Peter Hopkinson. Robert Ames, and Harry Oakes discussing the Memorial plaque where the Remembrance is held. Robert’s father, killed two weeks before the war ended, is seventh listed.  Both with No 5. Unit, Peter covered the Rhine Crossing and Harry went in with the Gliders, followed by 16 days covering the relief of Belsen.

In recognition of the Unit, and especially those deployed with Allied Special Forces, a new plaque in their memory is now in position in the National Memorial Arboretum and will be dedicated in the early summer. Arrangements for the dedication will soon be completed and posted on this site, to enable anyone with past connections, including family and friends, to be invited to attend.


Then and now

Recently the AFPU, at the special invitation of Master Photographer WO I Fiona Stapley, were invited to RAF Cosford to present the story of our Unit to today’s photographers of Media operations Land at their annual seminar.
Paul Clark traced the story of the Unit from it’s tentative formation in 1941 under the umbrella of Public Relations, but as a separate Unit until it’s closure in 1946 when members were dispersed to other duties.
Other presentations demonstrated the demands, techniques and equipment used today, several elements and limitations experienced 60 years ago.
New equipment, rapid transmission of images, expectations of picture and news editors while considering everyone’s safety place extra demands on the photographer’s.
Unlike yesteryear when AFPU members proudly sported the shoulder flash which heads this site, it is now greatly envied by today’s photographers who are bulked in under Media Ops MOD.
We are watching and monitoring with great interest the progress being made toward the original ‘flash’ being adopted for today’s recognition.