The film was used for propaganda purposes, and was seen by a major proportion of the British public at the time. Its images have, for good or ill, become part of the collective memory of the Great War: the explosion of the massive mine at Hawthorn Ridge redoubt; the eyes of a soldier struggling to carry a wounded man along a trench, and the advance of troops through barbed wire feature in nearly every visual evocation of the Western Front. (The latter images are particularly controversial and the book surely closes the debate on their provenance).
The book follows closely the disparate trail of evidence that suggests where and when the footage was shot. Key to this is the account left by Malins himself, a crib sheet assembled soon after the war, and most importantly for this book, a sequence of still photographs now part of the Imperial War Museum collection taken in parallel with Malins and McDowell’s footage. These shots form the backbone of the book, and often identify locations and units left anonymous by the film.
The resulting integration of these sources is the best account of the film and the scenes it depicts. It is a significant further step on from the IWM viewing guide edited by Roger Smither in the early 1990s. The technical problems of filming are well covered and the authors have even enlisted the help of lip-reading specialists to allow the true lost voices of the Somme generation to be `heard’ again after nearly a century.
GHOSTS ON THE SOMME Filming the Battle June-July 1916
This important book fulfils a vital service by taking the 1916 documentary film `The Battle of the Somme’ filmed on location by Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell, and placing it under the strictest and most exacting historical scrutiny.A masterpiece, and central to our Somme library.