Geoffrey Malins was a British film maker, most famed for his work on the 1916 film The Battle of the Somme.
Malins’ work was a combination of documentary and propaganda, which both shocked and moved audiences around the country.
Today, The Battle of the Somme provides a valuable insight into an important historical event, immortalising in film one of the First World War’s most infamous battles.
1. Geoffrey Malins’ real name was Arthur Herbert Malins
Geoffrey Malins was born Arthur Herbert Malins in Hastings, Sussex. The son of a hairdresser, little else is known about the early life of Malins, who resisted discussing his childhood.
Details of his origins were even omitted from his memoirs, and it has been speculated that this was an attempt to separate himself from his past and make his mark free from judgement.
2. The Battle of the Somme was not Malins’ first experience of the battlefield
Malins began his career as a portrait photographer before securing a role at the Clarendon Film Company.
Before the outbreak of the First World War, Malins joined French based Gaumont Film Company who sent him to Belgium. Here, Malins was tasked with filming the Belgian army in action.
This experience was to provide a small insight into what was to come.
3. The Battle of the Somme was watched by an estimated 20 million people
In 1915 Malins received a War Office appointment to act as an official camera man for the British Army. Given the rank of Lieutenant, Malins was sent to the Front to begin filming. By June 1916 Malins had made 16 films.
In June 1916 Malins was assigned to film the upcoming Somme Offensive, with fellow film maker John McDowell. Malins returned to London in July 1916 armed with 8,000 feet of film.
The completed film, 77 minutes long, premiered on 7 August 1916. In the coming weeks, an astounding 20 million people went to see the film.
Despite its reception, some considered the film’s depiction of death too graphic for British audiences. Malins acknowledged this, arguing that it was the public’s “duty to see for themselves”.
Whilst some scenes in the film were staged or recreated, the footage remains a rich source for historical study.
4. Malins was badly injured whilst filming The Battle of the Somme
Despite his non-combative role as camera man, Malins did not escape the horrors of war. His position was a dangerous one, not without risk.
During his first year of filming Malins was wounded twice. He was also deafened, gassed, and shaken by explosions.
His declining health eventually meant he was discharged from duty.
5. Malins went on to write and direct a number of films
After the war, Malins’ film career went in a different direction, understandably preferring film sets to the battlefield.
In 1919 Malins founded the Garrick Film Company. The company produced several films directed by Malins including: The Greater Love, The Scourge and The Golden Web.
Although the company went into liquidation soon after, Malins went on to make at least a dozen more feature films.
6. In 1920 Malins published an autobiography about his wartime filming
In 1920 Malins published How I filmed the War, an autobiography about the filming of The Battle of the Somme and his wartime career as a camera man. The autobiography describes the harsh conditions under which Malins had to work.
However, despite being described as an “entertaining read”, Malins’ account seems to ignore some important truths. His colleague McDowell is not mentioned once.
7. In 1918 Malins was awarded an OBE
Malins’ efforts were officially recognised when he was awarded an OBE in 1918.
Malins was commended for the work he undertook “in circumstances of extreme difficulty”.
8. Malins was a keen adventurer and traveller
Malins was an avid traveller, with a taste for adventure. In the years after the war, he often traveled the world on various expeditions.
In 1922 Malins was part of an ambitious team that attempted to fly across the world. The group flew as far as India, but unfortunately no further.
9. Malins went on to write a second book, Going Further, documenting his adventures
In November 1926 Malins took part in another attempt to journey across the world — this time in a motorcycle and sidecar with Charles Oliver.
The duo, on bikes nicknamed ‘Pip’ and ‘Squeak’, rode through Europe, the Middle and Far East, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii, San Francisco and New York, before returning to London in December 1927.
During his journey, Malins continued to satisfy his love of film. He gave evidence to the Royal Commission of the Moving Picture Industry in Australia and shot extensive footage documenting his own journey.
The trip was the subject of his second book, published in 1931, entitled Going Further.
10. Malins eventually settled in South Africa
After a successful career and colourful life, in the 1930s Malins settled in South Africa. Malins passed away in 1940 at the age of 54.