Two experienced pressmen, Lieutenant Ted Malindine and Lieutenant Len Puttnam, were among the civilian photographers called up to record the experiences of the British Expeditionary Force in 1939 and 1940. Both recorded the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk. Their dedication was such that they themselves were evacuated not once but twice from France.
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When war broke out in September 1939, just one Army photographer, Geoffrey Keating, and one cameraman, Harry Rignold, accompanied the British Expeditionary Force to France.
On 24 October 1941, the Army agreed to form a corps of trained photographers and cameramen. The unit was called the Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU). AFPU photographers and cameramen were recruited from the ranks of the Army. Many had been press photographers or cameramen in peacetime. All recruits had to undergo compulsory training in battle photography at Pinewood Film Studios. Badges and permits were issued after attempts to confiscate film by overzealous British soldiers.
The first AFPU section deployed to North Africa. More men were recruited and deployed to Syria, Palestine, Cyprus and Iraq. Desert Victory (1943), a film formed almost entirely from AFPU footage, won an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1943.
No. 2 Section covered the campaigns in Tunisia, Sicily and Italy, producing a number of successful films, including Tunisian Victory (1944).
On D-Day, 6 June 1944, ten AFPU men from newly formed No. 5 section accompanied the first wave of troops ashore, while others landed with airborne troops by parachute or glider. In the following months, the AFPU accompanied the British Army as it fought its way across Europe. Despite the tough battles they had experienced, nothing prepared the AFPU for the scenes that they encountered at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp when they entered the camp on 15 April 1945.
In vivid contrast, the AFPU covered the surrender of the German forces in Europe. Many then joined No. 9 Section to cover the ongoing war in the Far East. The AFPU disbanded in 1946.
Camera equipment available to the Army Film and Photographic Unit was basic even for the day: a medium format Super-Ikonta or Kodak Medallist camera for stills photography and an Eyemo or De Vry camera for cine film. Access to reliable motor transport also presented challenges for the new unit, which eventually came to rely on US jeeps.
Army Film and Photographic Unit photographers and cameramen working in North Africa found that operating in the desert was not easy. Extreme temperatures and dust played havoc with cameras and vehicles. A senior photographer, Captain Arthur Graham, was embedded with the Long Range Desert Group, operating deep in the desert behind enemy lines.
A 25-pounder gun firing during the British artillery barrage at the start of the Second Battle of El Alamein, 23 October 1942. Desert Victory (1943), a documentary film about the Battle of El Alamein formed almost entirely from Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU) footage, achieved international recognition and won an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1943. However, the AFPU's success was achieved at some cost: three men were killed and many others injured. Five were taken prisoner and some experienced combat fatigue.
No. 2 Section Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU) covered the campaigns in Tunisia, Sicily and Italy, producing a number of successful films including Tunisian Victory (1944). Captain Geoffrey Keating led an AFPU contingent of 14 to cover the Anzio landings. One of his men, Sergeant Lambert – who took the photograph shown here - was blown into the sea when a bomb exploded nearby. He survived unscathed and subsequently received the Military Medal.
A front line dressing station at Wolfheze, north of Arnhem, 1944. Arnhem was a particularly difficult operation for the Army Film and Photographic Unit. Three sergeants - Dennis Smith, Gordon Walker and Mike Lewis - barely escaped with their lives when they were surrounded by German forces but managed nonetheless to bring back 800 feet of cine film and 54 photographs from this ill-fated operation. This photograph was taken by Sergeant Smith.
Another section of the Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU), No. 5, was formed on 15 April 1944 to prepare for the landings in Normandy. Colonel Hugh Stewart took command and called on his most experienced men. Nine officers and 72 other ranks, including 39 sergeant cameramen and photographers, were recruited. These included Picture Post photographer Bert Hardy, who took the photograph shown here.
The Army Film and Photographic Unit coverage of D-Day remains some of its most memorable and was incorporated in another Academy Award winning film, The True Glory (1945). This image of troops of the 3rd British Infantry Division was taken at 8.30am on 6 June 1944 and is one a series of acclaimed photographs by Sergeant Jimmy Mapham, who spent most of the day under constant fire.
This photograph shows Sergeant E E Miller of the Army Film and Photographic Unit in action with the 5th Indian Division during the drive on the Rangoon. Just before the picture was taken, Sergeant Miller was slightly wounded in the hand.
An Indian infantry section of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Rajput Regiment on the Arakan front, Burma, 1945. The work of No. 9 Section, which recorded the exploits of the 'Forgotten Army' in India, Burma and South East Asia, is least known today but contains stunning photographs and footage of jungle warfare, shot in conditions which verged on the impossible. No. 9 highlighted the vital contribution of Commonwealth and Empire troops and generated another great film, Burma Victory.