On a chilly St George’s Day April weekend in 1916, exactly 100 years ago, troops stationed at Ripon Army Camp came together with the people of Ripon for a huge military tournament on Ripon Racecourse. It was a joyous occasion – with competitions, races, a cross country run, horse trials, highland dancing (many of the Highland Regiments were stationed in Ripon at the time ) and a chance to put to one side the darkening clouds of the First World War for just one day. But life would soon change, and those very regiments would be en route to the Somme just weeks later. Some would survive, but many would lose their lives on the fields of Flanders.
Astonishingly, what has survived is a film made on that day, April 24th 1916, to record the events on Ripon Racecourse. It was made for the manager of Ripon’s first cinema, the Ripon Palladium, and it was a crafty ruse to encourage the hundreds of people on the Racecourse that day to come along to the Palladium the next weekend to see themselves, just for a few fleeting moments, on the silver screen.
The faces of Ripon people, the troops, the Racecourse – all captured on film, all peering back at us now, 100 years later. Though the original film and the images on it were deteriorating, the Yorkshire Film Archive have undertaken the preservation work, digitisation and research into the film so that once again we can see the remarkable images captured in ‘Scenes at the Ripon Highland Sports’.
The research has revealed some remarkable stories of the people there on the day. Nurse Adam, seen holding the programme for the day, worked in infectious disease hospitals, fell in love with a soldier from the Northumberland Fusiliers, but they never married – he was killed in Gallipoli.
Bobby Cruikshank, stationed in Ripon at the time, is seen winning the 100 yard dash – he was wounded at the Somme, went on to fight at Ypres, was captured, escaped and re-joined his regiment once again. He survived the war, emigrated to America, and became a famous professional golfer.
This weekend, on 23rd April, Ripon Racecourse will screen the film as part of their St George’s Day race meeting, and today’s racing crowds will stand in exactly the same spot where those troops stood 100 years ago.