‘Broken in the Wars’ and the King’s Fund

One of the films shown at the recent Kennington Bioscope ‘Silent Weekend’ at the Cinema Museum was Cecil Hepworth’s Broken In the Wars. Henry Edwards plays a cobbler who has to give up his business in order to go to war. When he returns injured, his wife learns about the ‘King’s Fund for Disabled Officers and Men’ which will give him a grant to get his business up and running again. The film is available to view online in the uk via the brilliant BFI Player

Broken in Wars - crutches

It’s an interesting example of a wartime information short – the sort of film Hepworth made in considerable numbers during the war, using the appeal of his roster of stars such as Henry Edwards, Chrissie White and Alma Taylor to convey key wartime propaganda messages though little mini dramas. Like the more famous ‘Food Flashes’ of the Second World War (which Hepworth also had a hand in), these little films often offer advice on domestic matters in wartime – things like not wasting soap, or making dumplings without suet. Broken in the Wars is a sort of cross between these films and the more curious ‘cinema interviews’ series, where wartime politicians ‘speak’ directly to camera, delivering propaganda messages – the film incorporates a personal appearance by John Hodge the Minister for Pensions who addresses the viewer in this way, advertising the benefits of the ‘King’s Fund’.

I did some research into the background of the film for an article I wrote about wartime schemes for training disabled veterans as cinema projectionists. I couldn’t use the material there, but seeing the film again brought home to me how odd the film looks unless you know about the controversy that it is explicitly intended to address. Why is Hodge himself shoe-horned into a drama that could do its propaganda work perfectly well without him? Why does Alma Taylor’s character suddenly and seemingly without motivation ask whether the scheme being advertised isn’t charity?

What was The King’s Fund?

‘The King’s Fund’ was run by the Ministry of Pensions, and was championed and publicized by the Minister himself, John Hodge MP. However it was not connected to the central business of that Ministry – the distribution of state funded pensions, disability pensions, war widows’ pensions and so forth. Instead it was a fund raised from the public by donation, which was then awarded to disabled ex-servicemen in the form of grants designed to enable them to meet the overheads necessary to set themselves up in their chosen line of business. Hodge strenuously denied that this made it a charity, arguing instead that its purpose was to ‘fill the gap between the State duty and what a grateful people were prepared to do for the men… a freewill offering of grateful people to the ‘boys’ who had done so much for them.’[1] Even today the distinction appears to be a nice one, and in 1918 when any suggestion that the State might find it convenient to offload men who had been maimed in its service onto the mercies of charity, it was highly contentious. The National Federation of Discharged and Demobilized Sailors and Soldiers (NFDDSS) in particular objected to the fund in the strongest possible terms and its leader James Hogge MP attacked it as demeaning to his members, reducing them to the status of begging to King and Country for funds that should be their right.[2]

The cinema industry, by contrast, threw its weight enthusiastically behind the King’s Fund as part of its policy of ‘practical patriotism’, making the Fund a principal beneficiary of the fundraising activities of The Cinematograph Benevolent Fund. During the summer of 1918, under the auspices of the tireless Paul Kimberley, the trade had staged a ‘Cinema Gymkhana’ – a sort of fundraising cinema sports day at Stamford Bridge.[3] It was at the trade luncheon held to present the £13,000 raised from this event to the King’s Fund that John Hodge chose to launch a somewhat incontinent counter-attack against Hogge’s criticisms, arguing that they were tantamount to an attack on the King himself, for which, if he had been in Berlin, Hogge would have been executed.[4] In less combative mood he went on to try and justify the idea that the fund was not a charity, by offering the illustration of two disabled petitioners, one of whom might want to set up as a boot-maker requiring overheads of £25, while the other might want to run a cinema show with overheads of £5000. A state fund could not be seen to be distributing funds in such an unequal manner, and so the King’s Fund was designed to ‘supplement what the state could and should do. It was not a charity…’[5]

The distinction remained controversial. So much so that when, following their now established tradition of using cinema to publicize their work, the Ministry commissioned a film drama to promote the fund, the question of its charitable status again took centre stage. Broken in the Wars was made by Hepworth’s company at the request of Hodge, and possibly on the initiative of Paul Kimberley, who had taken up a post as Hepworth’s general manager just around the time of the Gymkhana luncheon.[6] It was released in early 1919 and survives in the BFI National Archive. Henry Edwards plays Bill, a cobbler who gives up his business to go to war. When he returns with a leg injury, his wife (Chrissie White) writes to Lady Dorothea Hamlyn (Alma Taylor), the local aristocrat, for advice on how he might find funds to revive his business. ‘You’ve done so much to help so many – will you see me?’ When they meet, Lady Hamlyn draws her attention to the account of the Fund in the papers, the summary for which does not neglect to mention that Mr John Hodge ‘hopes to raise three million pounds in the near future.’ But better than that, Hodge will be visiting the manor and so the couple can petition him in person. When they do so, displaying all the nervousness and deference of humble folk in the presence of the wealthy and powerful, Hodge himself appears on screen and approves their case. Lady Hamlyn, however, is confused. ‘But surely the State ought to provide for cases of this sort?’ she asks in an inter-title. Hodge delivers the response in a close up, which is also slightly irised to isolate his face in the frame as he reiterates the central argument of the film: ‘It’s no State duty to find capital to start people in business,’ he says animatedly.

Broken in Wars image

Bill’s wife, reaching across him as though to protect her husband’s pride from the implication that they are asking for more then their due, responds ‘We don’t want no charity. Bill can make ’is business pay alright, if only ’e can get a start.’ Immediately Lady Hamlyn touches her shoulder as though to calm her fears, and Hodge, with his palms out and forward in an expansive gesture explains, ‘This is no charity, my dear. It is just the mere gratitude of old fogies like myself for the men who have given Everything for us.’ Bill and his wife shake Hodge’s hand gratefully and withdraw, while he turns face on to the camera to deliver the final appeal of the film: ‘If the People of England would only express one-tenth of the gratitude they feel, I should have my Three Million Pounds to-morrow.’ The incoherence of the message must be clear – the film is an open appeal to cinemagoers for voluntary donations to a fund, which it nevertheless insists is not a charity. Even disregarding this aspect, it is easy to see why such material might have infuriated Hogge and the newly politicized veteran members of the NFDDSS. Hepworth has often been castigated (unjustly in my view) for making conservative films which upheld and celebrated regressive social relations. With this film, though, the charge seems thoroughly justified. Every gesture, every detail of the mise-en-scene contrasts the humble simplicity and deference of Bill and his wife against the graciousness, civility and authority of Hodge and Lady Hamlyn. Their dark woolen clothes are contrasted against Hamlyn’s flowing white gown, their stooping posture and upraised eyes against Hamlyn and Hodge’s steady gaze and upright stance. They are offered as pathetic figures, broken and helpless, precisely in order to elicit the charitable sympathy of the audience for the cause that may help them. Given the criticisms that had already been directed against Hodge and the Fund, it seems baffling that the film-makers chose to include a reference to deferent class relations at all, let alone build the whole narrative around them. Even more baffling as Hodge himself was a Labour MP, and a staunch Trades Unionist.[7]

Despite Hodge’s illustrative example at the Gymkhana luncheon, very few King’s Fund grants went to cinema operators. Most small grants were awards for boot-making, building and coster-mongering tools, while the requests for large grants were by far and away most frequently to do one of two things – to set up fish and chip shops, or to emigrate.[8]

[1] The Era 9/10/1918, p. 20.

[2] The Scotsman, 4/10/1918:3; See also Joanna Bourke, Dismembering the Male, p. 62.

[3] The Era, 7/8/1918, p. 23; Daily Mirror, 4/9/1918, p. 5.

[4] The Scotsman, 4/10/1918, p. 3.

[5] The Era, 9/10/1918, p. 20.

[6] The Era, 4/9/1918, p. 20.

[7] I’m not the only one to think so. His local Labour branch itself thought that Hodge had moved far enough from their key principles by 1918 that they fielded a candidate against him in that year’s General Election. See also the comments of Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen, Memoirs (1925), p. 207.

[8] The Scotsman19/11/1919, p. 10.

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