This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: AYY 791).


Official production highlights the war effort of Southern Rhodesia during the Second World War.

The film opens with a montage of images detailing the aggression of Hitler's Germany and the outbreak of war "the lights go out in Europe for a second time...". The first part of film, with commentary by Major C W Mercer of the Southern Rhodesia Military Forces, deals with the civilian war effort beginning with establishing views of the countryside with a shot of the grave of Cecil Rhodes followed by the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia stating that " England's wars are our wars, we have only one object to help win this war as quickly as possible" with the commentary adding that "Cabinet and country were behind him to a man". The film then continues with a brief survey of Rhodesia's rich resources now turned to the war effort, the iron and steel industry, the cotton industry, asbestos mining, coal mining and the railway system used to transport these resources. The film then briefly covers the role of women in the war effort both in the Armed Forces and in munitions work. After a view of a native village three young men are seen leaving the village to join the native Police force the "black Police", followed by a brief sequence of native troops in training, on parade and on the march. The second part of the film, with commentary by Wing Commander P C Fletcher of the RAF covers the Empire Air Training Scheme based in Southern Rhodesia, with shots of cadets from various parts of the world (shoulder flashes from Australia, Denmark, Jugoslavia [Yugoslavia], USA, South Africa, and Rhodesia), a "brotherhood of youth". The film then details the various parts of their training including classroom work, flying training, the Link trainer, gunnery practice, bombing practice and various forms of Physical Training and recreational sport (including a sequence in a boxing ring when an onlooker, identified as sportsman John Hopley (?) steps in to give some boxing instruction). This section of the film ends with target practice (including camera-gun footage of the target) and the presentation of the cadet's graduation "wings".


The commentary for the first portion of the film dealing with the civilian war effort is notable for its extremely patronising references to the work of and ability of the "natives". When referring to workers in the iron and steel industry " natives of Southern Rhodesia pull their weight... but their understanding is limited.... like a very young pup that must be watched and encouraged but never forced..". When commenting on their work in the cotton mills "nothing he likes better than to do exactly the same thing at every hour of the day...... moreover he has no idea of time as we understand it." When referring to the young men joining the Police the commentary notes they will learn discipline and a self-respect that they have never known before.

Production: Produced at Misr Studios, Cairo.



In 1942, William Gale, an information officer for the Southern Rhodesian Public Relations Office, outlined his plans for a Rhodesian Film Institute within Sight and Sound. In his article, Gale claimed that ‘the greatest problem’ Southern Rhodesia faces concerns ‘race relationships’ between the Europeans and the ‘native, only a short remove from savagery, with his superstition, his primitive ways, his crude habits, his poor mental development’ (Sight and Sound, Winter 1942, 60). Gale further claimed that ‘we live in the midst of a backward (but progressing) native people numbering 1,250,000 only two generations removed from complete savagery’ and in a subsequent letter argued that ‘the mental level of the average [African] adult is about that of a 10-year old European child’ (Burns, 2002, 34).

Gale also noted the need to produce more films within Southern Rhodesia for overseas distribution. ‘The Colony is one of the partners in the great Empire Air Training Scheme’, Gale wrote. ‘Thousands of airmen from British and other parts of the Commonwealth are with us’, yet, according to Gale, ‘most of them have been angry. Why, they have cried, why didn’t we know about Southern Rhodesia before?’ Gale thus highlighted the need for film to tell the British ‘about her sister partners across the sea’ (Sight and Sound, Winter 1942, 58).

The British Empire Air Training Scheme (BEATS) was, according to Ashley Jackson, arguably Southern Rhodesia’s ‘most notable contribution’ to the war effort (Jackson, 2006, 230). Selected, in part, because of its climate, Southern Rhodesia constructed eleven substantial air stations and by the end of 1944 over 8600 men (Kenneth Vickery quotes the ultimate total at 15,000 trainees) had passed through into RAF units throughout the world.

The construction of these aerodromes relied on enforced African labour. Such conscription was often strongly resisted, partly as the wages paid were lower than those received by the farm hands – the poorest paid workers in the colony – but also because many suspected that they would subsequently be conscripted outside of the colony. Yet this conscription stretched beyond the realm of aerodrome construction. In 1942, after a season of drought and failing crops, the government passed the Compulsory Native Labour Act. This enabled the Food Production Committees to conscript African males, aged between 18 and 45, who had been out of work for more than three months. For the most part the Africans remained antagonistic towards this conscription, with David Johnson highlighting the high rate of desertion amongst the Rhodesian work force (Johnson, The Journal of African History, Vol. 33, no. 1, 1992, 124).



Outpost at War illustrates the value of Rhodesia to the imperial war effort. This contribution is divided along racial lines, first showing the industrial work performed by the Africans, before the commentary and tone shifts – with shots of war and air battles – to the work of the Empire Air Training Scheme. Despite the contribution of local labour to the establishment of these bases, the ‘brotherhood of youth’ shown here is – aside from a brief shot of Africans and whites marching – all white.

The film attempts to position Rhodesia within the Empire. This is achieved, in part, by relating Rhodesia to England – Salisbury has ‘all the virtues of a charming county town’ while in the production of cotton ‘Lancashire’s example is followed’ – but also in emphasising the shared battle as ‘England’s wars are our wars’. The commentator represents Rhodes’ arrival in the country as an earlier victory over the Germans, stating that ‘the gross glare of Germany had already fastened upon this country when Rhodes and his companions annexed it in the great Queen’s name’. The commentator ignores any pre-colonial history here, stating that the country was ‘just 49 years old when war broke out’.

The film’s racial attitudes appear symptomatic of the views expressed by Gale and others within the Public Relations Department. The Africans are assigned inherent characteristics and discussed as ‘primitive’. Their instinct is ‘a precious faculty which more civilised people have long since cast away, but their understanding is limited. It is like a young pup’ the commentator states, ‘which must be watched and encouraged but never, never forced’. Repeated shots of industry highlight British ‘development’, while Africans are ‘naturally’ – again indicating inherent racial characteristics – ‘adapted’ to work with machines. ‘There is nothing he likes better than to do exactly the same thing at every hour of every day. He glories in routine. Moreover he has no idea of time as we understand it’. The Africans are depicted as almost inhuman alongside the machines, devoid of emotion and benefiting from British control. The language used is particularly striking as the commentator asserts that ‘we are the slaves of time, but he [African] knows no such tyranny and so is spared considerable inconvenience’. Later when two Africans join the black police, the commentator states that this will provide them with ‘self-respect, an emotion which until now they have never known’.

This racial stereotyping supports the film’s message of imperial unity and its promotion of traditional British paternalism. First, the Africans are all happy under British rule – they ‘show forth a contentment seldom encountered in more civilised communities’. Secondly, they all wish to help the war effort: two local men join the fleet because ‘it is better than whiling away the days by playing at work and eking out an existence that is really unworthy of the name’. Indeed the commentary claims that ‘conscription had to be introduced to keep men out’ as the desire to join the forces threatened the ‘very life of the colony’. Thirdly, they are fortunate to have British assistance – the two men are ‘so proud to be the King’s men’ and it is their ‘privilege to help’. While it is very easy to discredit the validity of these claims, it is significant that a government film, seemingly intended for overseas distribution, should offer such a representation. Indeed the film’s defiant conclusion suggests a battle not simply against Germany but against a changing Empire. The film is framed by shots of Rhodes’ grave – ‘the nightmare will pass, but these views will not pass’ – defending traditional colonialism and suggesting that such ideals can continue beyond the war.

Tom Rice (May 2008)


Works Cited

Burns, J. M., Flickering Shadows: Cinema and Identity in Colonial Zimbabwe (Ohio: Ohio University Research in International Studies, 2002).

Gale, W.D., ‘Southern Rhodesian Plans’, Sight and Sound (Winter 1942), 58-60.

Jackson, Ashley, The British Empire and the Second World War (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2006).

Johnson, David, ‘Settler Farmers and Coerced African Labour in Southern Rhodesia, 1936-46’, The Journal of African History, Vol. 33, no. 1 (1992), 111-128.

Killingray, David, ‘Labour Mobilisation in British Colonial Africa for the War Effort, 1939-1946’, Africa and the Second World War, ed. by David Killingray and Richard Rathbone (Basingstoke: MacMillan, 1986).

Vickery, Kenneth P., ‘The Second World War Revival of Forced Labor in the Rhodesias’, The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 22, no. 3 (1989), 423-437.




Technical Data

Running Time:
27 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
2507 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Government of Southern Rhodesia
assistant cameraman
Middleton I H (Sergeant)
Windows, Chris (Sergeant)
Fletcher, P C (Wing Commander)
Mercer, C W (Major) ("Dornford Yates")
Grayson, Godfrey (Sergeant)
Grayson, Godfrey (Sergeant)
information officer
Gale, W D
liaison officer
Gisborne, G (Major)
Production company
No 1 Army Film and Photographic Unit



Production Organisations