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Bygone Port of Southampton

bygone Southampton old photos & film

This page is dedicated to footage about the ships filmed at the Port of Southampton in the old days, and complements our page of videos about bygone life in the city (see the link at the end).

“UNITED KINGDOM: SHOWBIZ – Cab Calloway and his band arrive in Southampton (1934)”

Uploaded to YouTube by British Pathé

The man who invented scat singing (improvises melodies and rhythms using the voice as an instrument rather than a speaking medium), Cab Calloway, arrived on the SS Majestic with his large band in 1934. They all sang for the camera from the ship. They arrived in a country concerned about blizzards and bad weather.

Born on December 25, 1907 to a lawyer, Cab Calloway was a regular performer at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem, New York City. He’s best known today for the hit song ‘Minnie the Moocher’. But he & the band appeared in many films during the 1930s and 1940s. Cab Calloway was the first African-American musician to sell a million records from a single song, and to have a nationally syndicated radio show.

His band included trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Jonah Jones, and Adolphus “Doc” Cheatham, saxophonists Ben Webster and Leon “Chu” Berry, guitarist Danny Barker, bassist Milt Hinton, and drummer Cozy Cole. 

“Southampton – First POW Ship Home (1953)”

Uploaded to YouTube by British Pathé

In 1953 the 22,000 ton troop ship Asturias brought the first British Prisoners of War home from prison camps in Korea. At the Port of Southampton, there’s a mixture of excitement, relief and bewilderment on screen as men from the Northumberland Fusiliers, the Royal Leicesters, the Ulster Rifles, the Royal Artillery and the Gloucester Regiment get back to British soil.

The war began on 25 June 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea. It unofficially ended in an armistice on 27 July 1953. Almost a thousand British servicemen, and a number of British civilians, were imprisoned. They found themselves in difficult conditions in North Korean camps in the vicinity of Pyongyang and villages along the Yalu River.

As the ship docks with more than 500 released POWs on board, rain sends the musicians from the welcoming band rushing indoors. But the desperate relatives make do with shawls and newspapers so they can watch for their lads disembarking. The reunion scenes are very moving.

Next there are interviews with John Parsons. 

Sgt. E.M. Smith of the Glouceters addresses concerns that the men have been persuaded to embrace Communism. He asserts it was only a small minority which were persuaded by the political ideology.

Corporal Upjohn, also of the Gloucesters, holds his son as he recounts some of the poor treatment they suffered in the camps. 

Devonian Corporal Holdham, awarded the Military Medal, stands next to his mother and father, two sisters and two brothers for the interview. He then summarises physical punishments, poor food and confinement. You can see his mother struggling to hide her emotions as she probably hears this for the first time.

Private Widshe from Wakefield says he filled his time with “Sports and study of Communist economics, and all that tripe” before hugging and kissing his delightedly happy daughter.

“Southampton Docks in the 1950s”

Uploaded to YouTube by britainonfilm

This is an extract from the DVD “Southampton on Film – The Gateway to England”, which you can buy from Britain On Film. It shows dockers at work at the Port of Southampton back in the 1950’s.

We are told that that cargo coming into Southampton’s Docks included:

  • Grapes from Cyprus
  • Melons from Israel
  • Pyrana pine from South America
  • About 75,000 tonnes of timber from Russia, Finland and Canada
  • 2.5m carcases a year from New Zealand (presumably lamb)
  • Cheeses from New Zealand
  • 5 million stems of bananas a year

The bananas are transported in the early form of containers, which were loaded onto a rail chassis. Then they are processed down a conveyor belt supervised by dock workers, who load them into the next containers.

“Liners In Southampton Harbour (1964)”

Uploaded to YouTube by British Pathé

Getting off the liner on this damp day in 1964 did not look as glamorous as you see in the films! The staff helping passengers disembark take ages to appear. The lady with the cigarette hanging out of her mouth presumably had no ideas the camera was there. The SS Andes, SS Queen Elizabeth and lots of small boats and tugs appear.

See bygone life on the streets of Southampton

Discover more locations in the sitemap of our pages for England