This film is held by the BFI (ID: 15230).


ACTUALITY. Commissioner Higgins of the Salvation Army visits Ahmedabad Girls' School.

A group of girls of different ages, wearing uniform dresses and saris, wave bunches of flowers around in a rhythmic exercise, directed by a woman teacher (18). A small group of European men and women visitors walk quickly past the girls and out of shot (21). The girls continue to wave the flowers (66). The group of Europeans walk back, waving at the camera and the girls (71). Blank (72). The visitors and their hosts on a verandah of a large building; the girls, led by their teacher, emerge in a line waving their flowers and perform an intricate dance movement. They finish in a close group to one side; the spectators wave and cheer and the girls wave their flowers for the camera (138ft).



The Salvation Army had first exhibited films in February 1897, and almost immediately announced plans to produce films of its own. This did not happen in Britain until 1903, with the establishment of the Salvation Army Cinematograph Department, which was set up as ‘a novel method of influencing the unsaved’ (Wiggins, 1964, 394). Indeed, over the next few years, the Army increasingly looked to exploit film and organise regular film screenings as a way to attract, particularly working-class, audiences to its meetings (Rapp, 1996, 163-4).

By 1906, the Cinematograph Department had produced 74 films. The vast majority of these (53 films) covered the Army’s work in Britain – for example Our Slummers at Work – but there were also eight films produced in Palestine during the founder General Booth’s tour, and thirteen from India. Historian Dean Rapp in analysing the surviving films, notes the ‘elementary’ nature of the productions – in their ‘minimal use’ of editing, titles and emerging camera techniques – but also considers how the Army sought to define itself through its on-screen appearances. He emphasises the prominent role of General Booth as a patriarchal figure within many of the films and argued that the films ‘portray the Army as it proudly viewed itself: hierarchically saluting, drilling, parading, inspecting troops and paying homage to its leaders, while also energetically preaching outdoors, distributing literature and playing music’. The Indian films ‘portray the worldwide scope of the Army’s evangelism’ and were probably, Rapp argues, ‘the first British missionary films produced by a Christian organization’ (Rapp, 1996, 171-173).

The films served to define the Salvation Army and, in exploiting a popular interest in film, also attracted audiences to the meetings. During 1904 a two-hour programme put together by the Cinematograph Department was used for a ‘cinematograph tour’, accompanied by speakers, across Salvationist Halls in England and Scotland. ‘Cinematograph displays’ were also advertised at the Electric Theatre during the Salvation Army’s International Congress in June 1904, while in September 1905 a ‘Cinematograph review’ of General Booth’s tour was held at the Royal Albert Hall (War Cry, 2 September 1905, 16). After 1908, the group’s engagement with cinema shifted. At this point the Army dismantled its Cinematograph Department, as it now joined a nationwide campaign against film immorality, cinema as a social space and film exhibition on Sundays (Rapp, 1996, 179). While the group’s engagement with cinema changed entirely, the function of this engagement did not. The group still sought to exploit a popular interest in cinema, to generate publicity, and define itself as a prominent moral campaigner, not now through film exhibition, but through film discourse.

The Salvation Army had first arrived in India in September 1882 – with a party of just four officers – but by 1904, War Cry was writing of ‘an army of about 50,000 soldiers and adherents’ (War Cry, 28 May 1904, 3). Colonel Bates, auditor-in-general, returned from India after a six-month visit in April 1904 and wrote about his experiences in ‘inspecting almost every phase of our work in the great Indian Empire’ (War Cry, 16 April 1904, 9). He noted the work carried out for ex-prisoners, the establishment of three rescue homes for women and the support given to children, orphaned and destitute as a result of famine. The Army’s broader work in education was also noted. A further report claimed that ‘so great is the lack of schools amongst the native populations of India that the Salvation Army has, in addition to its ordinary Spiritual and Social work, organised an [sic.] Educational work, which already numbers 415 day schools and eleven industrial boarding schools. These are attended by over 11,000 children’ (Social Gazette, 14 May 1904, 1). War Cry further noted that by the summer of 1904 there were 2,080 corps and outposts in India and Ceylon (War Cry, Summer Number 1904, 11).

Finally, this film – and the others depicting Salvation Army work in India – are part of a broader promotion and emphasis on the Army’s work in India during 1904. In March, Major Ewens gave an address on India and Ceylon at Eastleigh, which was accompanied by ‘seventy lantern views’, while in April, ‘interesting scenes of Indian life’ were shown at Fulham (War Cry, 5 March 1904, 6, 23 April 2904, 7). Major Byers ‘in Indian dress, talked on life and work in India’ at Peterborough in May, and Colonel Jeya Kodi ‘related thrilling incidents of work in India’ to an audience at Seaham Harbour (War Cry, 7 May 1904, 7, 14 May 1904, 7). Most notably, in June 1904, Commissioner Higgins, the army’s resident secretary for India, arrived in England as one of 47 representatives from India – including boys and girls from the schools – in order to take part at the Army’s International Congress. Before the Congress, the contingent spoke at Southend-on-Sea, where, according to War Cry, ‘the Commissioner’s Salvation talk, together with the Indians’ bright costumes, quaint music, thrilling testimonies and passionate earnestness, combined to make Southend, although on the banks of the Thames, as glowing and delightful as a scene on the Ganges’ (War Cry, 2 July 1904, 12). The tour continued over the next three months, with the party divided into two contingents, travelling extensively, in particular, across Scotland, and Yorkshire. By September, when they attended a meeting in Luton War Cry reported that ‘inside meetings to date have been attended by nearly fifty thousand people, and the outside crowds everywhere have been enormous’ (War Cry, 17 September 1904, 7). 



One of thirteen films produced in India between 1903 and 1906, Commissioner Higgins Visits Ahmedabad Girls School, indicates both the ways in which the Salvation Army looked used film to define itself – here as moral educators – and to promote its work as an international missionary organisation. In two shots, the film highlights the pageantry and almost military organisation of the Indian children, firstly presenting, as Rapp termed it, a ‘pom-pom drill’ and then marching, still with pom-poms, around in a circle. This certainly fits with an imperial ideal or organising and militarising foreign subjects.

The visit of Commissioner Higgins and his accomplices may be almost comical in its brevity – he twice walks across the screen, acknowledging the camera, but not the performing children – and the fixed camera’s initial focus on the girls’ performance, rather than the officials who work in and out of shot, seemingly highlights an emphasis on displaying the Indians. The appearance of Higgins and the officials – and the performance staged on their behalf – does though serve to indicate to British audiences the hierarchy of British leadership and the local celebration of British officials. Certainly, the film mirrors Army reports of the time in its stress on the apparent enthusiasm and gratitude of the local people for the work of the Army. A report in War Cry in 1904 described a scene in India, similar to that depicted here. ‘The Salvation Army Officer’s visit is eagerly looked forward to by the villagers’, it explained. ‘The day school is decorated, the bandsmen play proudly and all the villagers stop work to look at the Muktifauj. Tom-Toms are beating, women run to the doors of their houses and children from the Army School sing as they march along “Rajah, rajah alla” (Jesus shall reign)’ (War Cry, 28 May 1904, 3). The film thus serves as part of a far broader discourse on the role and work of the British officials in India, with talks, lantern shows, and in particular, the extensive summer tour of Indian representatives, all bringing both the display and exoticism of India and the overseas missionary work of the Army to British audiences.

Tom Rice (April 2009)


Works Cited

Booth Tucker, F., Muktifauj or Forty Years with the Salvation Army in India and Ceylon (London: Marshall Brothers Ltd., nd).

Rapp, Dean, ‘The British Salvation Army, The Early Film Industry and Urban Working-Class Adolescents, 1897-1918’, Twentieth Century British History, Vol. 7, Number 2, 1996, 157-188.

‘Social Work in India’, Social Gazette, 16 April 1904, 3.

‘Indian Education’, Social Gazette, 14 May 1904, 1.

War Cry, 1904, including:

 ‘India the Topic’, War Cry, 5 March 1904, 6.

‘India’s Three Hundred Millions! The Great Indian Empire and the Salvation Army’s Remarkable Progress, in Face a Great Difficulties, since our Officers First Landed There Twenty-Two Years Ago’, War Cry, 28 May 1904, 3.

War Cry, 25 June 1904, 4.

Wiggins, Arch. R., History of the Salvation Army, iv: 1886-1904 (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1964).




Technical Data

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

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Production Company
Salvation Army