Museum Searches For Stars Of Wartime Film Western Approaches

By Caroline Lewis | 30 May 2007
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photo of a museum in a former lifeboat station

Holyhead Maritime Museum with the air raid shelter on the right. © Holyhead Maritime Museum

A plaque in honour of the pioneering WWII documentary Western Approaches is to be unveiled on Friday June 1 2007, at Holyhead Maritime Museum. Filmed in the North Wales town during the Second World War, it was the first documentary to be shot in colour.

Organisers are now urgently searching for anyone who was involved in the making of the film to attend the unveiling ceremony.

“The outdoor scenes were filmed in Holyhead, in 1942,” explained John Cave MBE, Honorary Secretary of the Museum. “The Crown Film Unit came here for six or seven months and shot parts of the film at sea in the bay of Holyhead. It’s quite unique in that way as they chose not to film it all in a studio – we’re quite privileged.” (Other scenes were shot at Pinewood.)

“The plaque is going on a 1940 air raid shelter to the rear of the Museum. We thought this was the most appropriate place as we’ve refurbished it and inside is an exhibition covering World War One to the Falklands.”

The Crown Film Unit made the landmark docu-drama as a tribute to the Merchant Navy, bringing in special colour cameras from America and double Oscar-winning cinematographer Jack Cardiff.

Real servicemen portrayed the seamen in the feature length film, which tells the story of a Merchant Navy vessel struck by a German U-Boat torpedo in the Atlantic.

Shows a black and white photograph of a merchant seaman covered in oil and leaning on rail, sitting on the deck of a ship.

A Merchant Navy seaman rescued following the sinking of his ship. © Imperial War Museum

The Merchant Navy served as a lifeline between the USA and Britain during the Second World War, bringing in vital supplies despite life-threatening risks. The film, in which the crew from the sunken ship are set adrift in a lifeboat, brings home the reality of the hazards confronted by the Atlantic convoys.

The new plaque is part of the North Wales Film and Television Trail – a series of plaques commemorating locations related to filming in the region. Other plaques include one in Portmeirion, where cult television series The Prisoner is set, and one in Snowdonia, where Angelina Jolie played Lara Croft in Tombraider 2.

Margaret Jones, Curator at the Liverpool War Museum (formerly called the Western Approaches Museum, will unveil the plaque at 1pm on June 1 2007 at Holyhead Maritime Museum. Earlier in the day, at 11am, a former merchant seaman who is now MP for Anglesey, Albert Owen, will open the new exhibition in the air raid shelter.

Organisers the Wales Screen Commission would love any locals who appeared in or helped with the film to come along. It’s believed the man who played the cabin boy may still be in the area – do you know him?

Pat Jackson, who wrote and directed Western Approaches, sent his regrets that he will not be able to attend the ceremony. "I wish I could be with you," he said. "I recall the happy days in Holyhead, even though the problems of filming were pretty rugged. But I shall never forget the friendly people of Holyhead."

If you were involved in the film, or know anyone who was, please contact Richard Coombs at the Wales Screen Commission on 01286 685244, or email richardcoombs@gwynedd.gov.uk.

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