En dirigeable sur les champs de bataille is the name of a 78-minute film recently, the BBC tells us, discovered in the archives of the French army in Paris.
In August and September 1919 Jacques Trolley de Prévaux and his cameraman Lucien Lesaint filmed the remains of the Western front from an airship, from Nieuwpoort, on the North Sea in Belgium, to the Swiss Alps.
Clip from a (not entirely successful) BBC documentary about them directed by Mark Radice and presented by Fergal Keane. BBC blog. The First World War from Above is on BBC iPlayer in full until 10 pm on Sunday (UK only). It shows short extracts from the Trolley-Lesaint footage and also deals with the aerial photographs of the front taken during the war by the Royal Flying Corps, which are at the Imperial War Museum. It leaves many questions unanswered.
The RFC existed from May 1912 to April 1918, when it merged with the Royal Naval Air Service to form the RAF.
Trolley de Prévaux had become an airship pilot through the navy and had a naval career. He became active in the Resistance. He and his Polish wife were arrested by the Gestapo at Marseilles on March 29 1944. He was tortured. They were executed by a firing squad at Bron in Lyon on August 19, one of the last German actions there.
We are told that he and Lesaint did not film the Somme. Did they really fly as far as the Alps? The maps we are shown fade out after Verdun.
Trolley’s remarkable film was not entirely unknown before this year, since there are references online to it from earlier. Was only part of it known? Had it been lost? Why didn’t the BBC show more? His daughter Aude, born 1943, hadn’t heard of it. Keane visits her in Paris and reveals to her, alive on film, glancing back at the camera, the father she could not remember.
The first four stills here, and possibly the fifth, show Ypres.