Historic Dunkirk evacuation footage found by Library

Sailors on the HMS WhitehallUnique and historically significant films shot 75 years ago, during the evacuation of Allied forces from Dunkirk in 1940, have been discovered at The University of Manchester Library.

The videos can be viewed on YouTube.

The reels of black and white footage capture key moments during Operation Dynamo, the rescue from Dunkirk of over 300,000 British and allied troops trapped by advancing German forces.

The films were shot by Lieutenant Philip Roderick Hall who was serving aboard the destroyer HMS Whitehall, one of hundreds of naval vessels, merchant ships and small boats that took part in the rescue.

The films, which have never been broadcast and have been seen by only a handful of people, were digitised by the North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University. The films can now be viewed on YouTube, while the original reels have been donated to the Imperial War Museum in London for specialist preservation.

Kay Gladstone, Curator at the Imperial War Museum, said:

"Historically the films are important because they capture key moments of Operation Dynamo. We see the camera pan across the scene of fire and smoke over Dunkirk town, with its distinctive white and striped lighthouse in the background.

"The footage shows the rapid passage of arriving and departing destroyers, and one Cross-Channel ferry, assisting in the evacuation. Meanwhile a destroyer fires her rear anti-aircraft guns, and another appears so low in the water as to be sinking or aground. We also see evacuated soldiers packed onto destroyers. All the while, other troops waited patiently on the beaches for their turn to be rescued."
Kay Gladstone, Curator at the Imperial War Museum

Lieutenant Philip Roderick Hall shot the films while he was serving on HMS Whitehall during the evacuation from Dunkirk. There is also footage of him training as a Fleet Air Arm pilot prior to being killed in action on 14 June 1942.

One hair-raising scene shows planes attempting to land on the aircraft carrier HMS Argus during a storm. There are also scenes of Lieutenant Hall relaxing off-duty in England during the summer of 1941.

The two film reels were discovered at the University’s John Rylands Library by a member of the Heald-Hall family whose remarkable archive of correspondence, letter-books and diaries, spanning from 1866 to 1987, is one of hundreds of outstanding collections of rare books, manuscripts, archives, maps and visual materials housed in the Library.

John Hodgson, Manuscripts and Archives Manager, said:

“This is a truly remarkable discovery 75 years after Dunkirk, these films are testimony to the bravery of the servicemen and civilians who risked – and in many cases sacrificed – their lives to rescue the stricken army. Without Operation Dynamo, Britain would have lost the war.”
John Hodgson, Manuscripts and Archives Manager

Stills from the videos: