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.

Photographs

Geoffrey Malins

Photographs

Geoffrey Malins

Studio portrait of Geoffrey Malins, taken during the First World War in Catford, London

Studio portrait of Geoffrey Malins, taken during the First World War in Catford, London.

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.

Photographs

British troops attacking on the Somme

Photographs

British troops attacking on the Somme

A still of one of the staged shots from the film 'The Battle of the Somme' allegedly showing British troops advancing at the start of the battle on 1 July 1916. It is now accepted that this scene was staged for the camera at a training school behind the lines.

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.

Related Content

Still from the British film "The Battle of the Somme". The image is part of a sequence introduced by a caption reading "British Tommies rescuing a comrade under shell fire. (This man died 30 minutes after reaching the trenches)". The scene is generally accepted as having been filmed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916.
Battle of the Somme
Britain's Memory of the Battle of the Somme
The Battle of the Somme saw the first major action of Britain's New Army – the volunteers who had responded to Lord Kitchener's 1914 call for recruits. It was also the first Western Front offensive in which the British Army would take the leading role, rather than acting in support of its French ally. 
A view of a large, sunlit crater blasted into white chalky soil. The remains of German barbed-wire defences in the distance are a dark rust-coloured pink. A German and a British steel helmet and the remains of a uniform lie on the edge of the crater in the foreground. The sky is covered in dense white cloud with blue patches visible at the top of the composition.
First World War
5 Things You Need To Know About The Battle Of The Somme
The Battle of the Somme was one of the most bitterly contested and costly battles of the First World War, lasting nearly five months. Despite this, it is often the first day of the battle that is most remembered. 
Invitation card to a screening of the film 'Battle of the Somme', at the Scala Theatre, Charlotte Street, London, August 1916.
Battle of the Somme
How the Battle of the Somme was Filmed
Tens of thousands of soldiers went 'over the top' at 7.30am on 1 July 1916 on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Nearly 20,000 British soldiers died that day, which looms large in the collective national memory of the First World War. Cameramen Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell were there to record footage that became the cinematic sensation, Battle of the Somme.