602 Squadron Museum Association Online Exhibitions

Combat footage from Gun Camera - 602 Squadron RAF

Digitisation Date: 1st September 2012
Diigitisation Team: Interpretive Media and University of Glasgow School of Computing Science

The original 16mm film is a compilation of wartime gun camera footage from the Spitfires of several 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron pilots. It was discovered after many years lying in the loft of Sqn Ldr (retired) Ian Blair when he was clearing his loft in preparation for moving home. Ian no longer had a 16mm projector to view the film, so wasn't sure if it was the gun footage or some personal home movies? Ian contacted multimedia expert Jim Devine at the 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron Museum Association, who had arranged the filming of Ian's interview for the "Lions Rampant" project a year or so earlier. Jim was able to view the film in his facilities in Glasgow and confirm that the film was indeed gun camera footage from 602 sorties flown between September 1943 and February 1944.

Once it was clear that the footage was an important, and hitherto forgotten, historical record, Ian and Jim were keen to explore the possibility of transferring the film to digital. This would not only allow Ian to view the footage on his computer, but would also allow copies to be made available to the 602 Museum and RAF Hendon. Moreover, the nearly seventy year old film was very fragile and showing its age. It should also be remembered that this footage was shot in short bursts of a few seconds duration through the gun port of a Spitfire in a combat situation.

The pilots were no doubt concentrating more on shooting down the enemy, than acquiring action film footage that Steven Spielberg would later be jealous of! The film sections are thus rather brief, grainy, and often in and out of focus. Nevertheless, they represent a unique historical visual record of actual actions by named 602 pilots at this time. Each segment has inserted details identifying the pilot, aircraft flown, date, time, and type of enemy aircraft being attacked. These inserts appear very briefly at the start of each segment, often too briefly to be easily read. Conversion of the film to digital copy allowed Jim to be able to freeze the frames and record these details. To attempt to do this with the original film in a projector would have destroyed it, and these invaluable records would have been lost forever. The digital copy can also be slowed down to better appreciate action which at normal speed is very fleeting and difficult to interpret.

The conversion of 16mm film to digital can be a very time consuming process, requiring specialised equipment, and expert skills. It follows then that it can also be very expensive. However, as chance would have it, Jim had been asked to teach a new course on practical multimedia techniques, for the School of Computing Science at the University of Glasgow. So with Ian's agreement, Jim incorporated the 602 film footage into the practical learning experience of his students on the course. This not only allowed the footage to be digitised free of charge, but also provided Jim's students with a genuinely unique archival resource with which to develop and perfect their skills (under Jim's close supervision!). A challenge to which they rose with great enthusiasm.

The process has been quite a long one due to the zero cost route we took, but the experience has been very rewarding for all concerned. And of course we now have a permanent record in digital format, of those precious moments in the skies above Britain, with those young 602 pilots, all those years ago. The original film has now been returned to Ian with several digital copies. Ian intends to present the original film and a digital copy to RAF Museum Hendon. A digital disk copy is now in the collection of the 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron Museum, and thanks to David you can all now view it here on the web site. We hope that you will find it interesting and worth the effort that went into bringing it to you.

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