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This post was written by Criss Kovac. Criss is the supervisor of the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Lab. 

Home movies aren’t usually thought of as a rarity – especially these days as we happily capture our kids, friends, families, and pets on our smartphones– but home movies taken during war on the front lines are few and far between. In 1981, NARA was fortunate to receive Lt. Col. Ken Gerrish’s home movie of the time he spent on Papua New Guinea between 1942 and 1944. As the Engineering Officer, Mr. Gerrish had a unique vantage point from which to observe preparations for being stationed on the contested Pacific territory, outfitting men and equipment for battle, as well as being able to get to know the men and interact with the indigenous people of the island. Mr. Gerrish was responsible for maintaining P-39s for the 36th Fighter Squadron and P-38s for the Eighth Fighter Group of the Fifth Air Force Division.

Lt. Col. Ken Gerrish shot 16mm color home movies of his World War II experience and later added music and narration to create this film.

While there’s not a historic focus on Papua New Guinea like there is on the Pacific islands of Midway, Iwo Jima, or Tarawa, it was an incredibly important strategic location. With only about 100 miles of ocean between the southern coast of Papua New Guinea and the northeastern tip of Australia, it was a vital stronghold for the Japanese after they captured the town of Rabaul on the northeastern island on January 23rd, 1942. The Allies – Australian and American – held Port Moresby on the southeastern edge of the territory. The climate and the terrain were almost as brutal as their foes. Over the course of two and a half years the soldiers were plagued by dysentery, dengue fever, malaria, daily rains, monsoons, swamps, punishing topography, and irregular shipments of supplies.

Wanting to secure a foothold on mainland Papua New Guinea the Japanese dug in along the northern side of the main island on July 21st, 1942. Though the Gona Buna airstrip, held by the Japanese, was just 120 miles from Port Moresby, the Owen Stanley Range stood between the armies and the only way to cross between was over the treacherous Kokoda track. Both air offensives and land maneuvers were aimed at Japanese targets with the Allied Forces finally prevailing on August 31st, 1944. Over the course of the New Guinea campaign, approximately 14,000 Allied soldiers died and over 202,000 Japanese died.

Mr. Gerrish’s home movie shows little of these conditions aside from the rains and mention of the mosquitoes, malaria, and dengue fever during a ceremony where everyone is wearing long sleeves despite the heat. What Mr. Gerrish does focus on are particular individuals including Gen. George Kenney, commander of the Allied Air Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area, and WWII flying ace, Lt. George Welch. Other scenes focus on the men as they prepared equipment, enjoyed leisure time, and interacted with their Australian comrades. The films also contain quite a bit of footage of the native people of Papua New Guinea. A young child is given cigarettes in exchange for cutting down coconuts, a hospital built for the natives is shown, and Gerrish captures the reactions of a tribe when they see photos of themselves for the first time. According to the narration, some of the native people also helped to rescue a downed pilot and were enlisted to help kill the Japanese on the island.

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Gerrish’s home movies show the lighter side of living on the front lines as officers play against enlisted men in a 1943 baseball game.

Perhaps what interests me the most about these reels is how Mr. Gerrish was able to make them. According to Gerrish, the raw film stock came from the Army Air Corps supply for which he traded a bottle of gin, or whisky, for four rolls of film. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t regulation! The films may have been developed on the island (we see a “photo lab” sign), while on leave in Australia, or they may have remained sealed until his return to the States. We do know that the narration was added sometime after 1954 as Gerrish references Lt. Welch’s death, which occurred that year. We’re also not sure whether or not Mr. Gerrish compiled the A&B rolls on his own, or worked with someone else to edit them.

The original reels are 16mm Kodachrome and perhaps because of the time the reels spent in hot and humid conditions in the jungle the film exhibited a high level of shrinkage and was warped. There was also perforation damage, deterioration, and heavy scratches which are most noticeable in the second reel. Luckily, we were able to preserve these films despite their poor condition. We created a protection preservation copy as well as a new print and digital copy for access.

Ken Gerrish passed away in 2002; we are indebted to him, not only for his service, but for the unique record that he created and donated to the National Archives.



October 29 marks the 85th anniversary of Wall Street’s most infamous day, Black Tuesday. While the crash alone did not cause the Great Depression, the sharp drop in stock prices symbolized the end of the Roaring Twenties and the beginning of a decade of hardship. As prices plummeted, many lost their life savings. Many more lost faith in American financial institutions. The photographs below reflect the chaos and sorrow that emanated from the stock market crash and run on the banks. These photos are from the New York Times Paris Bureau, and now part of the holdings in the Still Picture department at NARA.

Wall Street in panic due to heavy trading. October, 1929.  306-NT-157.062C

Wall Street in panic due to heavy trading. October, 1929.
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Unemployed men queued outside a depression kitchen opened in Chicago by Al Capone. Feb. 1931. 306-NT-165.319C

Unemployed men queued outside a depression kitchen opened in Chicago by Al Capone. Feb. 1931. 
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stand guard at the entrance to the World Exchange Bank at 174 Second Avenue, New York City.  It had been closed down today due to a run on it. March 20, 1931. 306-NT-443-J-1

Police stand guard at the entrance to the World Exchange Bank at 174 Second Avenue, New York City. It had been closed down today due to a run on it. March 20, 1931.
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Crowd gathers in front of the doors of the Bank of the United States on Freeman Street, New York.  April, 1931. 306-NT-166.153C

Crowd gathers in front of the doors of the Bank of the United States on Freeman Street, New York. April, 1931.
 306-NT-166.153C

Groups of depositors in front of the closed American Union Bank, New York City.  April 26, 1932. 306-NT-677-B-177.476C

Groups of depositors in front of the closed American Union Bank, New York City. April 26, 1932.
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Crowds gather as hundreds of thousands of dollars in “Scrip Money” are burned.  The notes were issued after the bank had closed.  April, 1933. 306-NT-177.567CCrowds gather as hundreds of thousands of dollars in “Scrip Money” are burned. The notes were issued after the bank had closed. April, 1933.
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On October 30, 1938, CBS broadcast a radio play of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. The novel, first published in serial form in 1897, tells the story of an alien invasion of England. The Mercury Theatre on the Air production changed the location to New Jersey and employed a series of news bulletins to heighten the realism of the story. The next day, national media reported widespread panic, with citizens taking to the streets and scores of injuries resulting. The “panic” was more likely media hype: while some listeners were tricked, there is little evidence that the few who missed the frequent disclaimers actually took action or injured themselves because of the broadcast. Whatever the extent of the terror The War of the Worlds incited, the broadcast has become legendary. In a press conference the following day, 23-year-old Orson Welles explained why he didn’t expect listeners to think the well-known story was true. The actor-director’s exhaustion is more than just mental–Welles had stayed up until dawn rehearsing a new play.

From the release sheet:

RADIO PLAY TERRIFIES NATION.   New York, N.Y. Thousands of radio listeners throughout the U.S. are frightened into mass hysteria by a dramatization of H.G.Wells’ old thriller, “The War of the Worlds”, as staged by Orson Welles, young actor-manager.

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Orson Welles is surrounded by reporters at a press conference.

 You may view the complete reel, which also includes stories about new car technology and a college football roundup, on our YouTube channel. The newsreel is incomplete and the full soundtrack no longer exists.

About the Universal Newsreel Collection at NARA:

The Universal Newsreel Collection is one of the most used motion picture collections at the National Archives and Records Administration. Universal Newsreels were shown in movie theaters twice a week, from 1929 until 1967, and covered a wide range of American life and history during that time period. Each release usually contained five to seven stories averaging two minutes in length.

In 1974, Universal deeded its edited newsreel and outtake collection to the United States through the National Archives (NARA), and did not place any copyright restrictions on its use (some stories may contain other underlying intellectual property or proprietary use rights).

While Universal disposed of many of the soundtracks, leaving the newsreels incomplete, supplementary material like scripts, shot lists, and event programs can be found in the production files, available for research at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

Learn more about the Universal Newsreel Collection in this post and in this Prologue article. Watch other Universal Newsreels in our research room, in OPA, and on this playlist.



On October 21, 1967, an estimated crowd of 100,000 gathered by the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to protest the Vietnam War and march on the Pentagon. Organized by the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, the demonstration was the first major national protest against the Vietnam War. Along with the signs, chants, and other hallmarks of an anti-war demonstration, activists Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg, Ed Sanders, and Jerry Rubin planned an exorcism designed to raise the Pentagon off its foundation and put an end to the war. While the exorcism was mostly designed as political theater, the group purportedly met with officials from the General Services Administration and obtained permission to attempt a three-foot levitation (reduced dramatically from their original plan of 300 feet). The group also planned to use an airplane to drop a multitude of daisies on the Pentagon. They were foiled by the FBI at the airport, but the daisies played a part in creating one of the most iconic images of the late 1960s–that of a young protester placing a flower into the barrel of a National Guardsman’s rifle. By the end of the protest, the Pentagon remained firmly on its foundation, nearly 700 protesters had been jailed, and dozens were hospitalized. While it would be nearly seven years until the end of fighting in Vietnam, the march on the Pentagon had a lasting impact on public discussions surrounding the war. In its contemporary assessment of the events, the Universal News narration straddles the political line, saying that both sides ended up as losers.

From the release sheet: 

WASH, D.C. DEMO– Violence at the Pentagon, more than six-hundred persons arrested, and the general feeling that everyone lost are the parts and sum of a two-day anti-Vietnam-War demonstration in the nation’s capital.

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Anti-war protesters march in a “three hour parade across the Potomac” to demonstrate at the Pentagon.

You may view the complete reel, which also includes stories about a new fire extinguisher created in response to tragic fires on Navy aircraft carriers, an inflatable windshield, and college football, on our YouTube channel.

About the Universal Newsreel Collection at NARA:

The Universal Newsreel Collection is one of the most used motion picture collections at the National Archives and Records Administration. Universal Newsreels were shown in movie theaters twice a week, from 1929 until 1967, and covered a wide range of American life and history during that time period. Each release usually contained five to seven stories averaging two minutes in length.

In 1974, Universal deeded its edited newsreel and outtake collection to the United States through the National Archives (NARA), and did not place any copyright restrictions on its use (some stories may contain other underlying intellectual property or proprietary use rights).

While Universal disposed of many of the soundtracks, leaving the newsreels incomplete, supplementary material like scripts, shot lists, and event programs can be found in the production files, available for research at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

Learn more about the Universal Newsreel Collection in this post and in this Prologue article. Watch other Universal Newsreels in our research room, in OPA, and on this playlist.



This post was written by Criss Kovac. Criss is the supervisor of the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Lab. 

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the premiere of Fury Wednesday night and seeing the film (on film even!) reinforced what I know about World War II from the reels I see in NARA’s holdings on a regular basis. War is frighteningly loud; war is unbelievably gruesome; war reveals the best and worst traits of human beings. That being said, what struck me the most is how important film is in chronicling events from WWII in modern times and how important films were in documenting what happened at the time. Films were used to encourage enlistment, train troops, bolster morale, document the war, and inform troops and the American people about what was happening in Europe and the Pacific.

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The First Motion Picture unit in action.
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The United States military recognized the importance of motion pictures: Films could reach out to potential recruits, train troops, and disseminate information to the folks at home and soldiers spread across the planet. The Army Signal Corps had long been responsible for making training films, and after the United States’ entry into the war, the Army Air Forces got into motion pictures as well. In 1942, Gen. Hap Arnold commissioned studio head Jack Warner to establish the First Motion Picture Unit and contracted with Warner Bros. to produce Winning Your Wings, a film featuring Hollywood star and Army Air Force pilot Lt. James Stewart. Winning Your Wings is credited with inspiring 100,000 young men to enlist in the US Army Air Forces. The First Motion Picture Unit produced hundreds of films between 1942 and 1945.

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First Motion Picture Unit: Army Air Forces

Motion pictures were also vital to disseminating information about what was occurring throughout various fronts in the war and to inform the troops about what was going on at home. Newsreels produced by the military efficiently distributed information to members of the armed services. Subjects ranged from lighter topics, such as training war dogs, and training high schoolers to work in industry to bolster the war effort, to the way blood donations made their way to the front. Some of the footage in these digests is every bit as harrowing as some of the scenes in Fury as can be seen in this clip from the offensive on Tarawa. And, unlike in Hollywood, there are no sound effects, stunt doubles, or extras.

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 Army-Navy Screen Magazine #21 

At the same time, the Office of War Information ensured a steady stream of official films hit screens across the country. The OWI partnered with the Hollywood-based War Activities Committee for National Defense (run by George Schaefer, the former head of RKO Studios) to distribute films such as The Battle of Midway (1942) and With the Marines at Tarawa (1944)The Battle of Midway was the first time the American public saw troops engaging in battle in color and With the Marines at Tarawa was the first time audiences saw dead US Marines in color.

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The Battle of Midway

The legacies of the events of WWII live on because these moving images exist. As the veterans of WWII become fewer in number these reels will live on to tell the story of that era as only moving images can. While films like Fury are able to capture the sense of what it was like to live and die in a war the films in the collection at NARA can document the reality of life and death in a war zone.

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