Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Ariel Varges Revisited - Filming the War in Mesopotamia (1917-1918)

American cinematographer Ariel Varges featured before in this weblog. He shot film with the Serbian and the British army during Word War I and was in a unique position to cover the military operations in Mesopotamia (Iraq) which drove the Turks out of the Middle East.



Soldiers shielding their ears during the firing of a 60 Pounder in the desert. Photograph by Varges from the collection of the Imperial War Museum


In a previous weblog we described his newsreel work with the British army from 1917 when he followed the British offensive in Mesopotamia (Iraq) and covered the fall of Baghdad. Apart from newsreels Varges also produced footage for a series of topical films that were sponsored by the British War Office Cinema Commitee. The website of the Imperial War Museum lists 21 short films in this category, which all have footage that has been credited to Varges.




Scene from footage shot by Ariel Varges with the British forces in Mesopotamia



Norton's Column (1917)

An interesting example is the short Norton's Column in Mesopotamia, a jumbled film of the raid into Kurdistan by Brigadier-General C.E.G. Norton's Expeditionary Force in September 1917, showing the 7th Indian Cavalry Brigade, 14th Light Armoured Motor Battery and 'S' Battery Royal Horse Artillery conducting operations towards Mandali. The footage also has a scene showing a "Turkish spy" who is brought blindfold into the British camp. The same scene appeared in the War Office Topical Budget newsreel no. 336-1, which was released in Britain in January 1918 and is credited to Varges.

The film collection at the Imperial War Museum demonstrates that Varges accompanied the British in August-September 1918 during a raid into Baku (Southern Russia). He also filmed a series of test shots of British generals during the campaign in Mesopotamia, notably Lieutenant-General Sir William R. Marshall, Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, filmed wearing a cap, then a sun helmet. Apart from scenes showing the British military campaign Varges also seems to have been very much interested in covering the rich cultural heritage in the country. His films have many scenes of monuments at cities such as ancient Babylon and Ctesiphon.

For a list of all of these 21 films credited to Varges at the Imperial War Museum click this link.

We have also uploaded a selection of scenes from this footage on our YouTube channel.



                                   

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