Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Merl laVoy with the British forces at Salonika (1917)

In an earlier weblog we mentioned our discovery of footage shot by American cinematographer Merl laVoy in 1916 with the French forces at Verdun and the Somme. After the release of this movie, on August 25, 1917, LaVoy left the United States for Serbia. Once again, war film shot by LaVoy for this specfic assignment has been found by the authors, this time in the collection of the Imperial War Museum in London.

Merl laVoy in Edessa, Greece, 1917

As described in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War, LaVoy was a pioneering cameraman who was nicknamed the Modern Marco Polo because of his numerous travels across the globe for the newsreels. In 2015, we found four reels from his first film project, Heroic France, which was released in the United States in June 1917 through Mutual shortly after the American intervention in the Great War. As it turns out, LaVoy not only worked with the French but for his next photographic assignment he also joined the British forces in Salonika (modern Thessaloniki) in Greece. At the time, Salonika was where the Entente forces had opened a new front, trying to aid the Serbian army that had retreated across the Balkans after the capture of Belgrade in October 1915 by a combined Austro-German army.

British Troops in Salonika

Recently the Imperial War Museum in London has uploaded on the Internet three reels of footage produced by the War Office Cinema Committee in 1917 under the title British Troops in Salonika -3. The shotsheet, misnumbered as IWM 135, identifies the cameraman as Merl LaVoy. The Imperial War Museum notes: "There is some evidence that he was briefly employed on a semi-official basis by the British government but he could not have filmed all this material."

The film mainly features British soldiers from the 22nd Division with scenes showing wounded British soldiers on a mule transport, a British Army camp with a bakery, soldiers washing and eating, scenes shot from an airplane over Salonika harbor and General Guillaumat inspecting the British forces.

Here is a video with the scenes credited to LaVoy, taken with the British Expeditionary Army at Salonika. The clip has been uploaded on our YouTube channel for research purposes.

Apart from his films we also discovered on Flickr still pictures, uploaded by the Otis Historical Archives, taken by La Voy in 1917 when he worked with the British forces. Here is a selection:

British army horse litter

Tommy kitchen camp

Building church out of packing cases

The film scenes found at the Imperial War Museum were possibly edited into LaVoy's second World War I movie Victorious Serbia (1918) which was shown in the United States at local benefit exhibitions by the Red Cross.

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