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Geoffrey Malins And The Battle Of The Somme Film

Geoffrey Malins helped to create an enduring record of the Battle of the Somme for future generations using the new medium of film.

Malins was a portrait photographer before he joined the Clarendon Film Company’s studios in London in 1910. He soon became chief cameraman. On the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, he left and became a freelance war correspondent in Belgium and France filming newsreels.

In March 1915, the Kinematograph Manufacturers Association negotiated with the War Office to send two official cameramen to join the British Expeditionary Force. On 2 November, Malins and Edward Tong went to France, both with the rank of lieutenant.

Tong was invalided home in December but, by June 1916, Malins had made 26 films. The work was dangerous. By the end of his first year he had been wounded twice, deafened and badly shaken by explosions and gassed.

In June 1916, the War Office agreed that the forthcoming Somme offensive could be filmed. Malins was joined by John McDowell of the British and Colonial Film Company. Malins was attached to the 29th Division opposite Hawthorn Ridge, McDowell to the 7th Division near Mametz. On 10 July they returned to London with 8,000 feet of film. 

The completed documentary, which ran for 77 minutes, was first shown on 7 August 1916. The film was hugely popular with cinema audiences in Britain. An estimated 20 million people went to watch it in the weeks after its release. Although some scenes were recreated after the start of the battle, the action footage Malins captured remains a lasting record of an important historical event.

Malins continued filming in France but in spring 1917 he was forced to take sick leave. He returned in January 1918 but was not entirely fit and was discharged from the Army in June.

After the war, he published his memoir and continued his career as a film maker, his thirst for adventure often taking him abroad. In 1932 he settled in South Africa where he died of cancer in 1940.

You can watch excerpts from The Battle of the Somme and understand the role war has played in film in IWM London's exhibition Real to Reel: A Century of War Movies.