Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

The grim truth of life in the trenches during the Battle of the Somme in 1916

Hastings link to iconic 1916 Great War film

The centenary of Britain’s entry into the First World War has been marked in numerous ways since the opening events of August 2014. A spotlight has been shone on all sorts of archive material that helps give us all today a sense of how ‘the war to end all wars,’ as it was naively described at the time, was conducted. One item, a film shot on the battlefront in 1916, has a firm connection with Hastings. Paul Sargent tells the story.

The 1916 film The Battle of the Somme is a compelling documentary record of one of the key battles of the First World War and the first feature-length documentary film record of combat. First shown to the public in August 1916 and seen by many millions of British civilians within the first month of distribution, it was recognised at the time as a phenomenon that allowed the civilian home front audience to share the experience of the frontline soldier. One little-known fact about it is that one of the two cameramen who filmed it, Geoffrey Malins, was born and spent his early working life in Hastings.

Marching on to war

Arthur Herbert Malins – he later changed his name to Geoffrey – was born at 27 Russell Street on 18 November 1886.

He originally trained as a portrait photographer, working in a studio based in Queen’s Road until around 1910 when he moved to London to work as a film cameraman.

His ability led to him being nominated as one of two official cameramen to go to the Front at the end of 1915 to film alongside British forces. His filming, together with JB McDowell, of the opening phase of the Somme resulted in some of the most iconic images of the First World War.

In 2005 The Battle of the Somme film became the first British documentary to be inscribed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World register, and to do justice to this honour the Imperial War Museum (IWM) undertook the frame-by-frame restoration of the surviving film elements. The IWM was also able, thanks to the generous support of the Eric Anker-Petersen Charity, to commission a new score from Laura Rossi to enable modern audiences to experience a silent film with full orchestral accompaniment.

Few people have had the opportunity to watch the whole film in anything like the way in which it was seen by contemporary audiences – in good condition, at full length, at the correct speed and with full musical accompaniment. Now, a local audience can share the experience of seeing this silent film as it was originally intended to be seen, with full orchestral accompaniment by the Hastings Sinfonia.

Somme Philharmonia QEH

The Sinfonia bring the film to life in concert hall surroundings

Hastings Sinfonia is the local orchestra that has a reputation for performing well-known classical music and opera favourites together with exciting new melodic works.


They perform several times a year with outstanding soloists bringing passion and enthusiasm to all of their concerts.

As part of the Battle of the Somme Centenary Tour the orchestra, conducted by Derek Carden, will be playing live at a special screening of The Battle of the Somme film in Hastings in May.

The Battle of the Somme will be shown at 3pm on Sunday 21 May in St Mary in the Castle, Hastings. Guest speakers Laura Rossi, the composer, and Dr Toby Haggith, Senior Curator of the Imperial War Museum, will also be present.

Tickets: £12.50 adults, £8.50 under 18, available on the door or from TicketSource and Hastings Tourist Information Centre.

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Posted 16:44 Monday, Mar 20, 2017 In: Film

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