Who's Who - John Benjamin McDowell

The blowing of the Hawthorn Mine, signalling the start of the Battle of the Somme John Benjamin McDowell was the 'other' British cinematographer/photographer of the First World War.  Geoffrey Malins remains the best known, of course; and, if his memoirs How I Filmed The War (1920) are to be believed, the only such accredited on the Western Front - McDowell is not once mentioned.

Nevertheless it was the combined talents of  Malins and McDowell that resulted in what remains probably the most successful film in British cinema history, The Battle of the Somme.  Filmed in late June and early July 1916, the film was released to an awed, even shocked, reaction in Britain, where its scenes of the dead and dying were hitherto unknown.  In the space of two months some twenty million tickets were sold for the supposed documentary of the opening of the Somme Offensive.

Indeed, although viewed as a propaganda film by some, and despite the fact that certain of the best known scenes were later discovered to be fake (generally those showing troops going 'over the top'), the film remains invaluable as a guide to war as fought around the time of the Somme debacle.

McDowell himself was awarded the Military Cross for courage displayed while under fire.

A "Communication Trench" was a narrow trench constructed at an angle to a defensive trench to permit concealed access to the defensive trench.

- Did you know?

Who's Who