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'Our Navy'
Surviving Films

A.J. West sold his positive films. He reported that he had made some 56,000 feet of film which he listed in a catalogue made in 1913 when the films were sold.

He wrote in his Autobiography 'Sea Salts and Celluloid' (P 76):

"It was not long before began to feel that the business was becoming too involved for me to tackle by myself, and I was badly in need of a good rest, so that when a Glasgow firm asked my terms for letting them have the sole rights of hiring the films in Scotland and the Northern Counties, I replied that for a certain sum I was prepared to let them have the rights for the whole world, in other words to let them take over the whole business, lock, stock and barrel. This was agreed to, and I was paid a deposit on the total purchase sum, which was to be paid by means of instalments over a period of two years. In the meantime I kept the negatives and only let the Glasgow firm have the positives they needed for showing."

The 'Glasgow firm' mentioned in 1916 was distributor, James Joseph Bennell, proprietor of: B. B. FILM HIRING SERVICE, 81, Dunlop Street, in Glasgow (see 'The Bioscope' - Thursday 07 September 1916) On the closure of the business, the film stock was then sold onwards to the 'Argosy Film Co. Ltd' in 1917 a company also registered at 81 Dunlop Street on 2 August 1917 (See 'The Bioscope' - Thursday 20 September 1917 page 6) which was in the film business through the 1920's but was liquidated in 1930. The business then passed to 'Audible Filmcraft' which was itself wound up in 1931. It is believed that the positive film stock was transferred from West to B.B. Hiring without completing the purchase.

Though it was believed for a long time that all of Alfred West's films had been lost, a number of clips and fragments have survived. A number of film clips likely to be part of West's Our Navy are now catalogued by the British Film Institute and are listed at the foot of this page.

The Internet Movie Database catalogues a large number of clips from 1898 and 1904, though it is not yet known if this means that more material exists in other archives. If material is found, please contact the webmaster of this website and the Wessex Sound and Film Archive in Winchester.

At the foot of this page is an edited sequence of the extant films which was set to music in 2011 by Charles Mauleverer of the Royal College of Music. Charles Mauleverer is a descendant of the West family through Alfred West's sister. The original 'Our Navy' film performances were often accompanied by live music and sound effects, so this recreation is wholly in keeping with the spirit in which they would originally have been shown.

Stationer's Hall Copyright assertions
In order to assert copyright of his films, Alfred West attached sections of 35mm nitrate film to an application form which was held at Stationer's Hall.  These are believed to have been passed to the British Film Institute Archives. The clips have been preserved and photographed. These are the sources of some of the animated GIF files below.

Longer clips
There are also links to longer clips (some of which clearly bear A.J West's studio imprint on the first frame to authenticate them). The clips have been transcribed from Telecine to MiniDV format to .AVI format - and then rendered into .FLV format. Higher resolution versions are are available through the Wessex Sound and Film Archive at Winchester, Hants.

Original versions
This list of fragments and clips currently known to be preserved at the British Film Institute, is cross-referenced where possible to their descriptions in A.J.West's printed catalogue 'Life in Our Navy and Our Army' (PDF Download 5Mb - Transcript Download) which is held at the British Library as well as some of the frames preserved in the Public Record Office. (in some cases this is conjectural because some of the descriptions are slightly at variance with the content)

Sharing of films between companies

Early film makers shared and cross-marketed their films with each other selling sequences to make up coherent programmes. This means that it is not always possible to infer the actual cinematographer from the company named as having produced a sequence.

'Our Navy' is specifically mentioned as a contributor to Charles Urban's portfolio in an article in the Kinematograph Weekly for 14/07/1905

"The Charles Urban Trading Co. has just sent their new catalogue. It contains some 336 pages, an increase on last year's issue of 134 pages. This year's production comprises a revised list of high class original and copyrighted bioscope films. Urban Films, depicting scenes from all countries; Urban Educational Series, Geo. Star Films, and the best productions of Messrs. Lumiere, G. A. Smith, West's "Our Navy," Williamson, Nordon, and other makers."

This page from Charles Urban's 1905 catalogue (courtesy of Luke McKernan) lists the 'West's Our Navy Ltd.' series as supplying the footage for the mocked up sequence purporting to show the 'Bombardment of Port Arthur' in the Russo Japanese War.

Charles Urban Catalogue Page

A 'Warm Welcome' from Alfred J. West F.R.G.S.

Before you start looking at the clips, Alfred West will send you a smiling welcome in this short clip taken by his Grandson, Tony Clover, in 1936 on 9mm cine film. Although he took hundreds of thousands of feet of film during his life, this is the only known film footage of him.


Cat. Page Cat. No. Description and Length
14 92 'Another party brings a 9-Pounder gun along the Beach and fire several rounds out to sea' (75ft') NB - This clip, embossed on the first frame as 'West & Son', depicts this activity in a parade ground at Whale Island - the gun is afterwards dismantled along the lines of the Field Gun competition at the former Royal Tournament. That tradition started in 1907 in its current form - so this displays its precursor by 2 years. It is likely that this training was part of the preparations being made for sending the Naval Brigade to the Boer War which is the activity commeorated in the Field Gun Competitions.
Full clip curated at the British Film Institute (N.B. those taking part are wrongly referred to as 'Soldiers' in the main BFI title but correctly referred to in the description beneath)
3 40 Shows Mr. D. Hearn, (late Gunner R.N.) who was 90 years of age and who had served under Rear-Admiral Parker, one of Nelson's Captains, placing a wreath as his Centenary Tribute on the spot where Nelson fell, assisted by a First-Class Petty Officer and two boys of the Royal Seamen's and Marines Orphanage. One of the boys is believed to be Frank Beggs - the names of the others are not known. Alfred West's Great Grandson, David Clover was interviewed by the BBC about the sequence for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar in 2005.

Full Clip

to follow National Archives Reference:   COPY 1/436/575 Underwater Explosions - Spar Torpedo boat in Fraser Lake, Portsmouth Harbour (6 Frame Fragment of nitrate film in  Public Record Office as part of assertion of copyright) Probably one of West's earliest sequences.

Full clip

(NB - The first frame bears the West and Son embossed imprint)





Combined clip - 3 scenes found together in archives and attributed to A.J.West's 'Our Navy' series. Full versions available from Wessex Film and Sound archive at Winchester UK
  1. Horses Bathing (slow motion)
    "Swimming Horses. Across a wide River. An endless rope is stretched across to which the horses are tied and on the opposite shore this rope is being hauled in. Those horses unaccustomed to water protest, but the rope pulls on, and they have to plunge; but they arrive safe and sound on the other side."
  2. Outdoor Gymnastics (poor quality)
  3. 'Picturesque Swedish Drill' (Heavily restored - "The Navy's Cradle - The Royal Greenwich Hospital School")

Full clip

22 150 'Others seek for any pleasure that may be going; the Pier has special fascination for two twin souls, who watch with great interest two ladies rinking very gracefully. They try to do the same, but being the first time they have tried roller skates, the results are somewhat exciting, certainly very humorous' (9 frames only) (Strip kept as illustration in margin of 'Sea Salts and Celluloid' autobiography, derived from Catalogue of 1913
34 241-242 'Torpedo boat ....dash forward and discharge their deadly Whiteheads. There is a terrific explosion' The battle rages in detail. One of our ships is torpedoed and has a nasty list, but fights on. Another is like a floating volcano with her rapid discharge of 12 and 6in guns.' The ship was in fact a model used for promotional purposes.

Full Clip


In the clip above, you will see a gunboat steaming from right to left, apparently wearing the Japanese 'Sun' ensign. The flag was actually painted in frame by frame. One frame has been missed out - probably deliberately, and on this, the gunboat is clearly seen wearing the British White Ensign. The sequence starts with a !The scenes appear to have taken in Fountain Lake, near Whale Island in Portsmouth Harbour, and may have been used to simulate a programme about Naval action in the Russo Japanese War (1904-1905). The chalk pit at Paulsgrove near Fort Southwick on Portsdown Hill to the North is clearly visible.
  National Archives Reference:   COPY 1/436/578 Masthead. (6 Frame Fragment of nitrate film in  Public Record Office as part of assertion of copyright)
4 49 The Turbinia (2 frames only) - from a picture of the film stock located in contemporary account
? National Archives Reference:   COPY 1/436/576 Fragment of nitrate film in  Public Record Office as part of assertion of copyright showing sails and a bridge with man walking and sailor ascending a ladder - animated below
  National Archives Reference:   COPY 1/436/577 Field Gun firing and evolution  (6 Frame Fragment of nitrate film in The National Archives as part of assertion of copyright)

(See first item above for a a fuller clip of which this is a small part)
  National Archives Reference:   COPY 1/436/574 Field Gun firing on Southsea Common (Queen's Hotel in background). 6 Frame Fragment of nitrate film in The National Archives as part of assertion of copyright
    Masonic Procession along Fawcett Road Southsea in 1902 . This 4 minute sequence is the longest (and quite uncharacteristic) Alfred West film preserved to date - it was discovered in the projection booth of a Portsmouth cinema and carefully re-photographed frame by frame. It depicts the opening ceremony of St Matthew's Church, Southsea, on 21 May 1902 (the church was bombed and destroyed in the Second World War). It is filmed from a single static position. This clip has been substantially reduced in quality for web use. A better print is available from the Wessex Film Archive at Winchester There's a detailed description at The Hampshire Records Office. The clip is not mentioned in Alfred West's 1913 catalogue but was identified from markings on the film and container.


    "A Tribute To My Great-Great-Great Uncle, Film-maker Alfred West"

The composer Charles Mauleverer, RCM, a great great great nephew of Alfred West, has written music to an edited sequence drawn from some of Alfred West's surviving film - here's the YouTube version.


British Film Institute (BFI) and other fragments with "Our Navy" connections


Spar Torpedo

The opening frames of this clip show the 'G West' impressed mark

Bluejacket Drill

A souvenir postcard from the 'Our Navy' shows depicts this exact location and camera position

This sequence is also held at the Huntley Archive

Assembling, Firing and dismantling 9 pounder field gun at HMS Excellent

This sequence is referred to in West's Autobiography. The BFI labelling wrongly identifies the participants as 'Soldiers'. It is also included as a reference clip in the Copyright assertion document at the National Archives.


Mast and Sail

Copyright assertion clips held in the National Archives appear to show exactly this scene and cadets in this same dress from a slightly different viewpoint.

Rigging of a sailing ship

This sequence appears to be taken at the same time and has similarities with a deposited clip at the National Archive asserting copyright. The platform at the back is very similar.

From the Fighting Top of a Battleship in Action 

Although this is credited by the BFI to Charles Urban, it is very similar to action described by West. By 1909, "Our Navy" was selling sequences to other distributors including Charles Urban.

Queen Victoria's funeral - Alberta

West writes in his autobiography that he was aboard H.M.S. Collingwood when he filmed the 'Alberta' passing through the fleet

Torpedo firing

West's earliest films were connected with torpedo firing. The films were made at Admiralty request.

Field Gun Manipulation

The BFI suggests that this was part of an 'Our Army' sequence.

Firing Fort Guns

This sequence is credited by BFI to West

Deck Scrubbing

The scene (actually scrubbing hammocks rather than decks) shown here is typical of the sort of activity West says he filmed so that it is very likely his. The Warwick Trading Company is credited, but it is known that the early film makers sold each other sequences to be used in other ways in order to maximise their revenue.

Sailors playing cricket

The scene is not credited to 'Our Navy' by the BFI, but is very typical of the sequences that West describes in his 1913 catalogue. The opening frame carries a distinctive (Warwick Trading Company?) Logo, but film makers were known to share and cross-license sequences to each other. "189 An impromptu game of football with a ball of spun yarn, or cricket with a bucket for a wicket affords plenty of amusement during the dinner hour. (110)"

H.M.R.Y. Victoria and Albert departing 1901

West's company, through his staff member C.P.O. MacGregor was hired to film and photograph the Ophir cruise. The Victoria and Albert is shown as part of the record of the Prince of Wales' departure for Australia. It's likely that this sequence was taken to add some context to the sequences later shown to the King at Sandringham.

Highlanders Drilling

This sequence is credited to West's 'Our Army' series by BFI


British Naval power

A long sequence from Huntley Film Archives (open in new tab for full screen) which is labelled by them as being by 'Alfred West'. (That information obtained by them is from 'Gifford’s Encyclopaedia') The date claims to be 1916. As late as that sequences filmed earlier were still being hired out and being shown in small cinemas country wide, so this could be a compilation of earlier fim assembled for such showings at tat time

Four warships in rough seas

Although BFI suggests that this was filmed by the British Biograph company, it's very likely that at the time it was filmed, they did not have suitable 35mm cameras available. It is certainly the sort of sequence that West would have wanted to collect and show and for which he would have had the necessary clearance. It is not as suggested a 'Review' for which ships are usually anchored at Spithead in lines. It may have been an A.J. West 'Our Navy' sequence sold to another company.

Bluejackets amusing themselves

This sequence is very typical  of the subjects that West describes in his autobiography.

Marines Firing Squad

West's sense of drama would have attracted him to include this early (1899?) posed sequence showing a firing squad aiming at the audience.

Maxim Guns being fired

Although this film is credited by BFI to the Warwick Trading Company, it is very similar to the types of scene that West would have used. There may be a link between the company and West and films may have been sold and exchanged between them.


Naval Ships in action: 1907

Titled as "Torpedo Attack on H.M.S. Dreadnought," Film of attacks on the 'Dreadnought' were a staple of the shows in 1907/1908. In fact this sequence, supplied by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia as part of their "Corrick Collection", despite its title, shows no attack. It is very likely an offcut of the opening of a longer narrative sequence made up from various sources featuring foreign ships spliced together to appear to be attacking H.M.S. Dreadnought.
See press descriptions of 11/04/1908 and 20/04/1908 in "The Register" Adelaide, SA.

Naval Ships in action: 1907 from David Clover on Vimeo.

Marching Grenadiers

Credited by BFI to West, but no description of this sequence exists in his catalogue.

Yachts sailing

Although it is hard to tell, the backdrop could be of the Isle of Wight. Early cameras had no viewfinders which may explain the misframing.

Camper and Nicholson (Gosport?) Launch

Although the caption suggests that the launch is at Camper and Nicholson Gosport, the background scenery does not look like Portsmouth harbour. It could be the Isle of Wight.

HMS Powerful

The ship is shown sailing into Portsmouth Harbour after the Boer War. It is typical of the scenes that were available to West's 'Our Navy'. The Boer War featured heavily in his programming.

Cannon on ship

This sequence is typical of the close up views of activity that West enjoyed filming. The manipulation of a muzzle loading cannon would have made it particularly interesting.

Indian Clubs

Given that this is reported as being filmed at Whale Island in Portsmouth, and the fact that Hepworth was known to use films by other companies, this is a possible for West's show.

Saiors prepare a large gun

This is from the Huntley Archive and shows target practice at sea. A vessel towing a target is seen.

Attack on Whale Island

This film has been formally credited to Charles Urban rather than West. He appears to describe something like this sequence in his 1913 printed catalogue so I have included it more for showing the atmosphere and location than any claim to formal attribution, "Naval Evolutions On Land Attack on Whale Island
"The ships are put out of action, and there is nothing to prevent the invaders from landing except the land forces. Boats with guns and armed men are rowed rapidly to the beach, the 12-pounder guns in the bows clear the way as they approach and are landed, limbered up, and brought into action, and foot by foot the ground is contested. Further combatants follow, and so the attack goes on until the defenders have to retreat before the overwhelming force. (225) This film gives a graphic idea of how the guns are landed, and the Bluejackets, with the rifles slung behind them, haul on the drag ropes one minute, firing away the next .It is mimic, but looks deadly in earnest."
There was certainly more than one such event. The first, filmed by West (advertised in 'London Daily News' on 07/04/1904) and this in 1907 probably marketed by Charles Urban advertising 'Life in Our Navy'. (The Stage - Thursday 11 July 1907 P 10)

There doesn't seem to have been any press advertising for the acknowledged 'West'  sequence after 1904. The IMDB suggests correctly that the earlier one is West's "Attack and Defence of Whale Island, Portsmouth (1904).

The separately listed Warwick Trading Company credit (West supplied film to other companies) is for Attack on Whale Island (1907). This event is confirmed by the Royal Museums Greenwich (Harold Wyllie painting) which proposes Friday 3 May 1907.

Whatever attribution as to the cinematographer may be correct, here's the Huntley Archive film for atmosphere if nothing else. A navy exercise at Whale Island near Portsmouth 1900's

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