This film is held by the BFI (ID: 453228).


A history of the Great War, focussing on troops from the Empire.

An opening title outlines the scenes depicted within the film - 'Canadians to Salisbury Plain, England. Indians to Marseilles, France. New Zealanders and Australians to Egypt' - and opens with shots of Canadian troops in Salisbury holding a regimental flag. This is followed by a long shot over the plains showing a military exercise, as a group of soldiers thrust their guns back and forth. The next sequence shows troops relaxing and performing for the camera - one performs a Scottish dance, while his friends laugh, clap and wave their hats - before the men line up informally for a photograph. The next sequence is in Marseille, as carts and Indian soldiers march through the town. Crowds and children watch as they pass. Finally the film shows scenes from Egypt, with Australian troops riding and marching together in a variety of shots. This is followed by shots of the camp, showing the ambulances and tents, as the men relax and finally prepare food and drink as evening falls.



The first series of Pathé’s History of the War was announced in September 1917, with a second set of nine parts following in October. Described by Rachael Low as an ‘interesting but isolated venture in film journalism’, the series was introduced by Pathé as ‘a weekly series of half-reelers dealing with events during the past three years’ (Low, 1950, 153). An advertisement in Bioscope in September 1917 referred to ‘the greatest scenes of topical films ever produced’ and labelled the series ‘a colossal success’ (Bioscope, 20 September 1917, xxi). This success was also noted in the review for the second set of pictures, which Bioscope described as ‘quite as attractive as the first chapter, which has proved so successful’ (Bioscope, 11 October 1917, 54).

The series was also exhibited overseas, playing, for example, in New Zealand during the summer of 1918. Weekly screenings were advertised in the Grey River Argus as part of ‘Pollards Pictures’ at the local Opera House (Grey River Argus, 11 July 1918, 4). In America, there were screenings of Pathé’s History of the War beginning with footage of the war’s origins in Serbia and focussing on a different country each week. A report previewing a weekly screening at the Lyceum theatre in Winnipeg from April 1918 explained that the series would be ‘most valuable from the standpoint of education’ and ‘all school boys and girls will be given a chance to see them every Saturday morning’ (Manitoba Free Press, 20 April 1918, 22). Luke McKernan has illustrated the work of Charles Urban in bringing British war pictures to American audiences – Urban secured a deal with Pathé, which began in April 1917 – with an estimated 65 million people viewing the British war films in Urban’s charge during 1917 alone (McKernan, 2002, 384).

The series featured, and re-contextualised, newsreel footage that had often already been screened by Pathé. The review in Bioscope noted that ‘even if some of the incidents, battle scenes, etc., have been previously seen in Pathé Gazette, they are none the less interesting to-day in the light of later events’ (Bioscope, 11 October 1917, 54). As an example, footage of the New Zealand and Australian troops ‘under the shadow of the pyramids’ had featured regularly in England and, in particular in New Zealand and Australia during 1915. This footage, which ‘throws an illuminating light on the arduous training that the New Zealand and Australian Reinforcements had to undergo prior to their departure for the Dardanelles’, was packaged as Our Troops in Egypt when it played in New Zealand in 1915 (Evening Post, 30 June 1915, 3).

The footage of colonial troops evidently elicited a different response when shown within the countries represented on screen. When some of the footage of the New Zealand troops was shown in New Zealand in The Troops in Egypt, local papers presented the film as an opportunity to see ‘all the scenes that your friends have described to you’. Reviews emphasised the ‘march past of the troops’ and noted that ‘close up pictures make thousands of your friends clearly recognisable’ (Grey River Argus, 13 January 1916, 3). When the initial episode of the History of The War series – which showed the first expedition force on its way to France – was screened in England, a review claimed that ‘widows and bereaved mothers and sisters see or hope to see in these pictures living flashes of their beloved hero dead’. As a result of the enormous loss of life on this expedition, ‘nearly every face in these moving pictures holds tragic interest for some woman’. ‘Some go away in tears’, the report concluded, ‘some return to make sure and some sit through several performances without being satisfied’ (Lake Park News, 31 January 1918).

This edition of the series shows the arrival of Indian troops in Marseille. The Times reported on their arrival on 26 September 1914, less than six weeks after the declaration of war. ‘Today it has been my great fortune to assist in the making of history’, the journalist wrote. ‘I have seen the troops of one of the world’s most ancient civilisations set forth for the first time on the shores of Europe. I have seen proud Princes of India ride at the head of thousands of soldiers … determined to help with their Emperor’s battles or die… [and I have seen] what may well prove to be the strongest link in that singular and wonderful chain which we call the British Empire’ (The Times, 2 October 1914, 9). The scene is also recounted in the diary of an artist, Massia Bibikoff, who drew the Indians in camp in Marseille. ‘The city was decked with flags’, she wrote, ‘as if it were one of the great national holidays … shouting welcome to the gallant, bronze-faced soldiers who marched by with dignified yet swinging gait’. ‘It was’, the diary suggested, ‘a delirious scene’ as crowds stood up and cheered ‘“Vive Angleterre", " Vivent les Hindous", “Vivent les Alliés!"’ (Bibikoff, 1915, 11) Yet, while she talks of the camaraderie amongst the troops, subsequent historical work has highlighted the discrimination and tensions often felt within the camp. Nikolas Gardner outlined the ‘unprecedented restrictions’ placed on the Indians in Marseille – including a curfew and the threat of public flogging – which served primarily to prevent any relationships between Indian soldiers and European women and caused enormous resentment within the troops (Gardner, 2003, 177). 



This edition of Pathé’s History of the War represents colonial forces in England, France and Egypt and in doing so emphasises the unity of the Empire within the war effort. In particular, the film shows the troops in camp and relaxing, highlighting the camaraderie and apparent enthusiasm and spirit of the men away from battle. The film uses footage that, in many cases, had already played to audiences and that largely dates from the early months of the war. Yet, by the time of its release in the second half of 1917, this footage may be viewed in a very different context.

The report on British screenings of the first edition of the series suggests that the subsequent events within the war provide a fresh, and ‘tragic’ context for some of this footage, with the bereaved women left behind looking for their ‘beloved hero’ on screen. This relates to broader debates relating to bereavement, and trauma, discussed, for example, by Michael Hammond in his work on British cinema audiences in the war. Certainly the innocence and joviality of much of the footage appears more emotive when viewed with the benefit of hindsight in 1917 – for example showing the Australian troops before they suffered enormous losses in the Dardanelles campaign – yet this particular episode depicts imperial troops and so would perhaps encourage a more detached response within England. This response is seemingly one of gratitude, re-affirming the centrality and constancy of the Empire, rather than of empathy with the people on screen. This detachment is certainly apparent in the quoted report from America, which presented the series as ‘education’ suitable for school children, highlighting the pedagogical function of this composite footage. However, this footage of colonial troops also played within their home countries, where a further process of recognition – inviting audiences to spot ‘thousands of your friends’ – is again promoted. This is largely typical of the advertising strategies of Pathé Gazettes. Michael Hammond has noted how these newsreels encouraged this ‘reception trope of recognition’ as advertisements included lines such as ‘I’ve seen Bert several times with his regiment’ and ‘it’s really grand to sit down and see the scenes that you’ve been in’ (Hammond, 2006, 84).

Tom Rice (October 2008)


Works Cited

Bibikoff, Massia, Our Troops at Marseilles (London: Smith and Elder and Co., 1915).

Bioscope, 20 September 1917, xxi.

‘Animated History of the War’, Bioscope, 11 October 1917, 54.

[Wellington] Evening Post, 28 June 1915, 2.

[Wellington] Evening Post, 30 June 1915, 3.

Gardner, Nikolas, Trial by Fire: Command and the British Expeditionary Force in 1914 (Westport, CN: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003).

‘Pollards Pictures’, Grey River Argus, 13 January 1916, 3.

‘Pollards Pictures’, Grey River Argus, 11 July 1918, 4.

‘Pollards Pictures’, Grey River Argus, 26 August 1918, 4.

Hammond, Michael, The Big Show: British Cinema Culture in the Great War, 1914-1918 (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2006).

‘Early Days of Strife Displayed in Pictures’, Lake Park News, 31 January 1918.

Low, Rachael, History of the British Film, 1914-1918 (London, Allen and Unwin, 1950).

‘Great History of the War’, Manitoba Free Press, 20 April 1918, 22.

McKernan, Luke, ‘Propaganda, Patriotism and Profit: Charles Urban and British Official War Films in America during the First World War’, Film History, Volume 14, No. 3/4, War and Militarism, 2002, 369-389.

‘The Indian Troops At Marseilles’, The Times, 2 October 1914, 9.

Further Reading

Corrigan, Gordon, Sepoys in the Trenches: The Indian Corps on the Western Front 1914-15 (Stroud, Gloucestershire: Spellmount, 2006).

Fogarty, Richard S., Race and War in France: Colonial Subjects in the French Army, 1914-1918 (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2008).

Omissi, David, Indian Voices of the Great War: Soldier’s Letters, 1914-1918 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999).



Series Title:

Technical Data

Running Time:
3 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
218 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Production Company
Pathé Frères Cinema