Grainy clips of the D-Day landings at Normandy are hard to come by anyway. But now COLOUR footage is to get a widespread release, to shed further light on this pivotal event in history.
It turns out that the HMS Belfast, which fired the first shot that launched the invasion, was carrying an unlikely passenger in the form of Hollywood film director George Stevens. Stevens was a critically acclaimed film-maker – having directed the likes of Ginger Rogers in ‘Swing Time’ and Cary Grant in ‘Gunga Din’ – when he was assigned by General Dwight Eisenhower to head up the combat-motion picture coverage, a unit that was covering the war in black-and-white 35mm film for news reels and military archives. However, while documenting the Allied forces’ advance towards Berlin, Stevens used a 16mm camera and boxes of Kodachrome film to record his own personal account of the war. He developed them back home in the United States but they were soon put into storage and went untouched for decades.
That is until his son, George Stevens Jr, one day decided to make a documentary on his father’s life and was astonished at what he discovered. He had this to say in a recent interview, ‘This film came on and it was sort of grey-blue skies and barrage balloons – those big things that hung in the sky – and it was on a ship. It turned out [to be] the HMS Belfast, and it was suddenly, I realised, the morning of the 6th of June, the beginning of the greatest seaborne invasion in history. I had this feeling that my eyes were the first eyes that hadn’t been there that were seeing this day in colour. I watched this film unfold on this ship – all of these men with their flak jackets and anticipation of this day – and around a corner comes this man. He walks into a close-up, and it’s my 37-year-old father. It was so moving.’
In 1994, George Stevens Jr produced a documentary entitled ‘George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin’ using his father’s footage, along with interviews with members of his father’s team, as well as images of the horrors of war, including concentration camps and the devastation of French towns. Although this film was released on television 20 years ago, it will be available to purchase on Blu-ray in June for the first time.