British war correspondent and war artist
Villiers was one of the most flamboyant of those Victorian gentlemen who reported on the numerous small wars which took place in various parts of the world in the late nineteenth century. Amateur rather than professional when it came to the cinema, Villiers's main claim to fame in this regard is that he is the first person, as far as we know, who took a film camera to a battlefield. This was in the spring of 1897, during the brief war between Greece and Turkey. Villiers claims in his autobiography to have filmed various scenes with the Greek forces in their engagement in Velestino, also noting however, that these films were rendered unsaleable by the dramatic and action-packed fakes which Georges Méliès released at this time. The following year Villiers made another attempt at filming a war, this time while following the British forces pitted against the Dervishes in the Sudan, and again he was to face disappointment. Setting his camera up on one of the gunboats in the Nile, Villiers prepared to film the Battle of Omdurman on the morning of 2 September, but as the gunboat opened fire, Villiers' camera was knocked over and his films exposed, leaving the artist to rely on his sketch book as of old. For the next few campaigns he covered, Villiers abandoned the film camera, reporting on the Boer and Russo-Japanese wars as a correspondent and artist only. His next involvement with cinema was in the first Balkan War in 1912, which he was sent to film in the colour process, Kinemacolor, by Charles Urban, though little of the footage that he and other operators took was front-line action. Frederic Villiers, though very much the amateur and scarcely very successful in his results, showed that the film camera had a place in warfare, and paved the way for a new generation of professional war cameramen.