Unseen for years due to the fragility of the materials, ‘Springtime in an English Village’ offers an extraordinary and unexpected snapshot of rural life in wartime. After a fairly predictable opening – farmers ploughing fields, cute baby animals gambolling – it finally gets down to business. The film is about that most ancient of English traditions: the selection and crowning of the Queen of the May. But what is so surprising is that 60 years ago the village of Stanion in Northamptonshire chose to honour a young black girl – apparently the daughter of an African merchant seaman who had been evacuated there during the War.
It’s hard to know quite how literally to take the proceedings. The film was made by the Colonial Film Unit for the purpose of screening throughout Britain’s African and Caribbean colonies – to demonstrate ‘typical’ life in the UK – at a time when the government needed to recruit the support of men and women from across the Empire. Later, in the immediate post-War period, such films not only acted to reinforce imperial solidarity, but formed part of a propaganda campaign to attract cheap labour to the UK. (Robin Baker, with thanks to Tom Rice for additional research)