Living History Group
Army Film & Photographic Unit
Early in 1942 a section of thirty cameramen and photographers who had been recruited from serving soldiers and volunteered arrived in Cairo. They were placed under the command of Major David MacDonald, a producer of documentaries for the GPO Film Unit. MacDonald began to organise No.1 AFPS (Army Film and Photo Section) of the AFPU, assisted by Captain Ted Bacon, into a recognisable military unit armed with cameras.
The group comprised a full muster of 32 cameramen, many of whom had studio experience or in the case of stills, were from either Fleet Street or well-known regional newspapers. Equipped with Canadian made 35mm De Vry cine cameras together with German made 120 Super Ikonta stills cameras (imported via Canada and America), the group set about covering the war in the Western Desert as a front-line documentary production group.
The group was heavily involved in the various actions and at El Alamein Major MacDonald planned his film cover as effectively as Montgomery prepared his attack, with Sergeant cameramen deployed with different units allotted for the initial attack. During that October day in 1942 the men of AFPU were there amongst the tank battles and bayonet charges to record those moments. The attack and pursuit took a heavy toll on the AFPU with four killed, seven wounded and six captured; out of the 32 man unit.
The footage gained from El Alamein together with some studio scenes was released as the film ‘Desert Victory’, and was well received by audiences at home.
During the following pursuit of Rommel’s army, Major MacDonald allowed his cameramen a loose reign. With the relief of Tobruk and Benghazi the name of the AFPU became so well known with the men of the 8th Army, that it was an accepted phenomenon that they often made appearances ahead of the advancing troops.
Western Desert - No. 1 AFPS....
“From Corp Commander level downwards the word went out to expect a cameraman to pop up wherever any action might occur.”
All pictures copyright of Gary Hughes & Jeff Ball unless otherwise stated