Jean-Claude SEGUIN




Le cinématographe de Frederic Villiers (juillet-août 1898)

Frederic Villiers, correspondant de guerre pour les revues The Illustrated London News  et Black and white, couvre les batailles de Khartoum et Omdurman. Il explique comment il se prépare en cas d'attaque et quel est le type de matériel photographique et cinématographique qu'il emporte avec lui:

"Then, in case the Dervishes should got us into a tight corner, I am taking with me a Mauser pistol, which has a magazine of ten shots."
"That is a German weapon, is it not?” I queried.
“Yes," he replied, "but it's a good thing, although made in Germany. I have tested it, and can make very good practice at a hundred yards. This particular weapon was recommended to me by the London Sporting Club at Hendon. Its penetrating power is something remarkable. I fired a bullet through 14in. of deal, and the missile was found without a scratch upon it. I am taking the latest thing in cinematographs to produce living pictures of the battles, and, of course, I have my kodak which can be filled in daylight with the cartridge films."
"How different your equipment for this campaign must be compared with that of your first!” I remarked.
“Yes, it is entirely different. These things were never known a few years ago. I have kept my eye on those sparklets for some time, and they have only just been perfected."
"How long do you think the campaign will last?"
“I think it will be very short indeed, I fancy it will be all over within something like six or seven weeks of the start. We shall be in Khartoum by September, or, at the latest, by the first week in October."

The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Western Countries, Bristol, Friday, July 15, 1898, p. 8.

villiers frederic 02

Frederick Villiers
The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Western Countries, Bristol, Friday, July 15, 1898, p. 8. 

Le South Wales Daily News publie un long reportage que lui a transmis Frederic Villiers où ce dernier évoque un épisode de guerre et explique comment il recharge en pellicule son cinématographe:

OUR CORRESPONDENT DESCRIBES THE SLAUGHTER FROM A GUNBOAT. OMDURMAN, September 3rd, 1898. Towards midnight on August 31st a tropical rain burst upon us, and for an hour our encampment was almost deluged. Scorpions are not fond of wet weather, and seek cover wherever they can find it. One of these little horrors of the Soudan nestled in a warm corner between my shoulder and the blanket. Unconsciously I happened to disturb him in his slumbers. "Let sleeping dogs lie," says the old maxim. In an instant I was stabbed apparently with a red hot poniard. My servant came to my assistance with ammonia, which was vigorously rubbed into the puncture, and my arm was tightly bandaged up, while my good friend and colleague Burleigh plied me with whisky. The paroxysm of pain lasted three hours, then a numbness of the left side set in, and eventually the whisky prevailed over the poison of the scorpion, and I fell asleep till reveille. I simply mention this rather personal matter to testify that the whisky and ammonia treatment in the case of scorpion bites is efficacious. We were all excessively damp and uncomfortable for many hours on this our final march—as it afterwards turned out-before meeting the enemy. The sky was overcast, and the freshness of the morning suggested a first of September in England, and the heaviness of the ground owing to the previous night's rain gave colour to the impression that we were ploughing through a turnip field on a shooting expedition, no more exciting than that of bagging partridges. Towards 11 o'clock our stiffened limbs began to feel more supple as the sun broke out and the moisture of our rain- drenched clothes evaporated. Soon the sound of DISTANT BOOMING OF GUNS seemed to hasten the pace of the brigade into a brisker step as they trudged over the heavy plain It was remarkable the effect on the men of this near possibility of a fight. An exultant buzz passed through the ranks as Major Elmslie's battery commenced to pound away at the Omdurman forts. At 12.30 we came to a halt at the village of Kerriri, and from the plateau on which the village stood we could plainly see the ruins of Khartoum and the Mahdi's tomb, a white cone standing out on the horizon. The brigade had but hardly marched on their markers to encamp when our cavalry scouts reported the enemy in sight, and an hour later a reconnaissance party came in with the news that the whole Dervish army was marching on our position. At once our brigade moved forward and took up their position on ridges of undulating ground the English division stretching from a point above the Nile south on our left, the Egyptian forces continuing the line north to a narrow creek on our right, forming an oblong square with a mile frontage towards the desert, the gunboats Melik, Sheikh, Sultan, Metemmeh, Abu Klea, and Fatteh protecting out flanks. Towards sunset the enemy came to a halt in our immediate front about two miles away, evidently with the intention of giving battle in the morning. Though rather weary with a heavy day's march, the Sirdar's forces were spoiling for a fight. I never saw men keener, and there was a grunt of disappointment even when fatigue parties were told off to bring in wood to cook their rations, though they had been without a square meal since the night before. Kettles were soon boiling right along the line. The men drank their tea, munched their biscuits and bully beef, and eventually slumbered on their arms waiting for the dawn. Lights were ordered out shortly after sunset, but the order was not strictly carried out, and many fires were burning far into the night, giving the enemy a splendid opportunity of following their tactics as at Abu Klea, which was to SNIPE US ALL. NIGHT LONG. However, not a shot was fired, and when the moon rose, flooding the whole landscape with her soft mellow light, nothing but the heavy breathing of the troops and the occasional amorous bray of donkeys and growling of camels broke the stillness. In the middle of the night I woke up remembering that I had forgotten to fit up my cinematograph camera with films. This could only be done when darkness reigned, so I aroused my servant, got the apparatus together, and took it down to the gunboat Melik, where I found darkness enough in her stifling forehold. By the time I had arranged matters and came on deck it was dawn. An order had just arrived for the commander, Major Gordon, to cover the extreme right flank of the square, and the Melik was steaming along shore to take up her position. Not being able to land, I climbed up to her aft battery, from whence I could view the country around. From this position I com- manded a most comprehensive view of the whole situation, and it was a sight that will ever remain in my memory. On my left flank was the Nile, a wide expanse of silvery sheen reflecting the most delicate tints of colour from the early sun— a shield of amber rapidly rising behind the purple ruins of Gordon's palace in the shady groves of Khartoum. I wondered at the moment if it would be my fate to-day to see, that sun set upon the wreckage of the Dervish power, and that glorious soldier's cruel death avenged. Glancing to the right one could see the grey desert, the level plain broken by a sharp conical hill bearing towards Omdurman, then, running parallel to the river six miles uway, was a. long flat ridge of hills shutting the desert in. The square of the Sirdar's forces faced these lines —the British Division forming the left and left- centre, while the Egyptian Brigades held the right of the positions. Each flank turned towards the river. and were supported by the gunboats, of which the Sheikh, Fatteh, Metemmeh, and Hafin, commanded by Lieutenant Bettey, were stationed at the south while the Melik, Sultan, and Abu Klea protected the Egyptian flank to the north, under Commodore Keppel. [...]

South Wales Daily News, Cardiff, Tuesday 27 September 1898, p. 5.

Malheureusement les conditions climatiques vont avoir raison du matériel cinématographique comme il le rapporte lui-même:

Bicycle and Cinematograph.
It may be remembered that in a previous interview Mr. Villiers gave an interesting description of his ingenious equipment, and I asked him whether it had proved satisfactory.
“I am glad to say,” he replied, “that I succeeded in taking my bicycle to Omdurman, much to the amusement of the natives en route, who thought that the machine was absolutely alive, especially when I loudly sounded the trumpet attached to the handle-bars.”
“How did the tires stand the rough work in the desert?”
“The tires are absolutely perfect today. They stood the heat splendidly, and the machine is now as sound as it was when it left the maker’s. There is not a bolt or screw wrong, and as for the Kimberley military tires-well, all I can say is that they stood, the rough usage of the desert in a wonderful way. Unfortunately, my cinematograph films did not bear the great change of climate well. In fact, all the films deteriorate in one month south of the Atbara, when you enter a climate that is semi-tropical and very damp. No photographs, even, were particularly successful. Films, or dry plates did not come out as well as one would expect, considering that there was always more or less bright sunlight.”

The Indianapolis News, Indianapolis, Wednesday, November 2, 1898, p. 6.

1898 Villiers

Our Success in the Soudan
"The Sirdar's entry into Omdurman on the night of the battle: black troops, covered by gun-boats, clearing the streets of Baggara.
From a Sketch by our Special Artist, Mr. F. Villiers.
Illustrated London News, Londres, samedi 1er octobre 1898, p. 16.