British newsreel archive reveals Latvian scenes

At least 20 old newsreels featuring Latvia and Latvians before the Second World War and under Soviet occupation are becoming available for free viewing on a British Web site.

British Pathe Ltd., which for decades provided newsreels to inform British moviegoers, began putting its collection of 3,500 hours of digitized movies—spanning 75 years of British and world history—online in July, according to the company and The New York Times newspaper. All newsreels, published and unpublished, are to be online by May, according to British Pathe.

The site provides downloadable copies of low-resolution preview digital movie files. The preview files are in Windows Media format, which can be viewed on Windows-based and Macintosh computers equipped with the free Windows Media Player software. Users may also purchase high resolution digital files or videotape of the newsreels.

Among the newsreels related to Latvia is one showing presidents of all three Baltic republics—including Latvia’s Janis Čakste—being greeted as they attend the 1926 song festival in Rīga. Another shows Latvia’s “crack cavalry” performing for President Čakste.

Darker moments of Latvia’s history also are covered, such as the 1944 entry of Soviet troops into Rīga, shown in a nearly three-minute Russian-language newsreel.

Perhaps one of the most interesting newsreels for Latvians living abroad may be a short and silent 17-second clip from the early 1950s showing a Swedish vessel, the Gundel, bringing Latvian, Lithuanian and Swedish refugees to Boston.

The British Pathe Web site is at

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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