75 years ago today – George Formby and Grandad, 1940

In amongst my Grandad’s wartime letters and ephemera is this photo-made-into-a-postcard of George Formby, sent to Grandma in a letter. The nice thing about this is that two of my Grandad’s army friends are pictured either side of George – they’re the ones who Grandad marked with crosses. I didn’t even know about this picture until a few weeks back, when my mum uncovered it. But I was immediately massively impressed, I’m such a George Formby fan that the thought that Grandad had (presumably) seen him in person is incredible.

Grandad's George Formby postcard

Grandad’s George Formby photograph

And here’s a picture of Grandad around that time:

Grandad in the Second World War

Grandad in the Second World War

I didn’t know know anything about the photo apart from the fact that it appears to be in France – most of Grandad’s wartime things seem to be from the early part of the war when he was based in France on the Maginot Line during the Phony War period. I thought he must have taken it himself, as his friend is looking right down the camera at the photographer. Grandad wasn’t anywhere in it himself, although as it’s his unit it seems very likely he’d also be there. But that was it.

In fact, in this previous post about Grandad, Richard Dimbleby and an unknown German Soldier, I’d posted up this video of George singing his song Imagine Me on the Maginot Line and wondered if there was any chance that Grandad had actually been there. It’s such a fantastically alive moment in time for me, this video.


I didn’t expect to be able to bring the photo to life, but that’s just what happened a couple of weeks ago. I was going to post it up on the blog anyway because I loved it so much, and was just having a look at George’s Wikipedia page, something I’ve looked at quite a few times before, but this time I immediately noticed something amazing. On the top picture, there was Grandad’s friend right next to him! It wasn’t the same photo as the one I have, but it was obviously taken almost at the same time.

George Formby on Wikipedia

George Formby on Wikipedia

This was exciting. It was my lunch break at work and I was suddenly gripped by the desire to find out more about whatever was happening here. The Wikipedia page links to the Imperial War Museum online archive – here, which shows the full, uncropped picture, and reveals the same “English Spoken” sign as on my picture.

From the Imperial War Museum archive

From the Imperial War Museum archive

So I learned it was taken on 13th March 1940, 75 years ago exactly today.

It was also taken by the War Office Official Photographer Lt. L. A. Puttnam, which means presumably my photo was too, and also produced as a postcard for the soldiers perhaps?

This was exciting enough, frankly, some information gathered. But now I had the date I could search more. And I found more, here in the incredible British Pathe archive – British Pathe


It’s a whole skit for the newsreels! And Grandad’s two friends got little speaking parts in it to boot! I wonder if this group were picked as they were fellow Lancastrians to George?

So they all sing When I’m Cleaning Windows, and I’m practically in tears watching a family photo unexpectedly turn into moving pictures.

But not only that….if you carry on watching, it turns into the moment I posted above, and also posted months ago before I even knew of the photo. The soldiers have him by bayonet-point to sing another song, and there it is, the Imagine Me on the Maginot Line that is one of my favourite clips of George. Perhaps the photo is actually a still from this film.

And there it was, a little bit of personal historical research done in a lunchtime, and something that profoundly moved me. Not for the first time, I wished that I could talk to Grandad again one last time, and hear what really happened on that day from him.

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  1. March 13, 2015

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