Westward Ho! is a punchy yet touching film about the evacuation of city children to rural areas during World War II.
It was the first of many government–sponsored ‘five–minuters’: short, specific and urgent public information films, distributed free to cinemas. This one was made by a commercial film studio, with feature film director Thorold Dickinson using technicians from recent projects. Astonishingly, exactly two weeks after shooting started, prints were already screening.
Dickinson was inspired by a newspaper letter from a mother objecting to evacuation. He seeks to reassure parents that procedures are being implemented carefully, to underline the bitter necessity of what was a controversial policy.
The first objective is achieved by showing one infant group’s evacuation from London to Devon. The final two minutes engage with the second task. Female refugees, superimposed on a map of Europe, beseech Britons to learn from the tragic consequences of delayed evacuation in their countries. A warning from a grimly determined soldier concludes the film.
Stylishly shot, this is effective, economical filmmaking for a time of crisis. Dickinson neither dares nor needs to stress the situation’s poignancy. Parents today will surely be powerfully affected by scenes of their 1940 counterparts waving off the trains, and by later shots of plucky young faces.
Cast & credits
- commentator Donald Bull