This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: IWM 84).


The British campaign in German East Africa, late 1915 to early 1916.

Soldiers of the King's African Rifles patrolling into the bush, supplied by light canoes bringing equipment up to the frontier outposts. The 25th Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers, better known as 'The Frontiersmen' or 'Driscoll's Scouts', moving up country and encamping. Wheeled mortars being cast and scratch-built from molten metal, and later test fired. A horse being camouflaged using potassium permanganate to darken its coat. An aeroplane, a Caudron GIII (captioned as belonging to the RFC, but in fact part of Royal Naval Air Service No 4 Expeditionary Squadron under the command of Squadron Commander J T Cull - note presence of RNAS ground crew), taking off, in flight and landing, probably at Maktau, Taita Hills in background. African scouts stalking on patrol. The Frontiersmen acting out the drill for a night alarm. A 4.7-inch coastal defence gun mounted on a field carriage being fired.


Production: Cherry Kearton was a noted wildlife film-maker who had filmed Theodore Roosevelt's pre-war African safari, etc. His anecdotal memoir 'Adventures with Animals and Men' includes four chapters on his war-time experiences in Africa as an officer with the 25th Bn Royal Fusiliers, which arrived in Mombasa in May 1915. These African chapters have much less information about specific filming episodes than two earlier chapters about his work for Warwick in Belgium at the start of the war, and provide very few useful dates. There are, however, two descriptions of episodes which confirm that he took a camera with him, and which match the film held. (1) Kearton makes passing mention of "my newly invented spring cinematograph camera" in an account of the mishaps in testing "a new kind of trench mortar". (2) He also writes "the R.N.A.S. put in an application that I should be loaned to them, as they were urgently in need of a photographer. I then did a good deal of work first for them and later for the R.F.C." Both these episodes are described as being "soon after Bukoba" which would suggest a date in the second half of 1915. However, a date in February/March 1916, as well as the Muktau location, were suggested for the RNAS section by Peter Dye in September 2006, citing 'Cross and Cockade International' (Autumn/Winter 2006 issue).

Distribution: although this was probably a freelance production by Cherry Kearton, there is evidence that it was later screened alongside official films. For example, the Sir William Jury papers in BFI Special Collections include a copy of an undated Scala Theatre programme for a show called AT THE FRONT. As prelude to THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME after the interval, the first half offered seven short subjects from Salonika, Russia and Mesopotamia as well as two French items and a film - with the title IN EAST AFRICA - described in terms closely matching this item.

Remarks: a well made film of considerable interest.

Series continuity: there is no film held under the numbers IWM 85 - IWM 94 inclusive.



Cherry Kearton, mostly remembered for his films of African wildlife, spent the early part of the War producing ‘The Whirlpool of War’, a cinemagazine made by Warwick Trading Co.. Kearton was a director and the largest shareholder of the company and produced 33 issues between August 1914 and February 1915, making a succession of weekly trips to Belgium (Kearton, 1935, 177, 189). In April and May 1915 he also presented a cinema lecture entitled ‘Through Central Africa from East to West’, featuring footage of his expedition from Mombasa to the mouth of the Congo, which had lasted from April 1913 until May 1914 (The Times, 8 April, 1915, 10). The lecture was also presented in America, with over 6,000 feet of film, by his accomplice on the trip, James Barnes (Indianapolis Sunday Star, 2 May 1915, 1).

Kearton claimed that he wasn’t initially wanted by the army, but was approached by Colonel Daniel Patrick Driscoll, a veteran of the Burma campaign of 1886-1888 and of the South African War of 1900-1902, when Driscoll sought permission to raise a special battalion out of the Legion of Frontiersmen for service in German East Africa. Driscoll chose the 64-year-old hunter F. C. Selous and Kearton as his ‘intelligence officers’, noting Kearton’s experience and knowledge of East Africa. On 4 May 1915 they arrived in Mombasa as part of the 25th Bn Royal Fusiliers (Kearton, 1935, 203-04).

Kearton recalled his experiences serving in East Africa in his book Adventures with Animals and Men. ‘Anyone who had experience of the War on the Western Front – with its creeping barrages, pill-boxes and tanks – will think our campaign in East Africa a very tame affair’ yet, he argued, ‘we had difficulties to contend with which were never met in Europe. We were fighting “open warfare” with a far-flung battle line. We had no continuous line of trenches and we never knew what unprotected piece of railway or exposed outpost would next be attacked in a sudden raid. We frequently marched without water’, he added, ‘and were also short of rations. There was a lack of proper and adequate medical supplies and the danger of sudden and devastating outbreaks of fever and dysentery was always with us’. ‘More than anything else’, he concluded, ‘the country was admirably suited for snipers and the native soldiers employed by the enemy were well trained in that section of the art of war’ (Kearton, 1935, 210).

While serving in East Africa, Cherry Kearton was loaned to the Royal Naval Air Service (R.N.A.S.) as a photographer, performing a ‘good deal of work for them and later for the R.F.C.’ (Kearton, 1935, 224). Kearton’s footage from East Africa was advertised in Bioscope in January 1917. Under an advertisement for Academy Moving Pictures – ‘the home of exclusive novelties’ – was Our Grip on the Huns in East Africa, described as ‘a fine Kine-record of the war in British East and German East Africa’ (Bioscope, 11 January 1917). A Scala theatre programme also suggests that the film played theatrically alongside official productions in London.



Operations of the British Expeditionary Forces in East Africa provides footage of an often-overlooked aspect of the British war effort. In its coverage of East Africa, the film illustrates the work of the ‘native troops’, showing the King’s African Rifles ‘marching through the scrub to the front’, as they walk fully armed towards the camera. It shows the Royal Fusiliers (Driscoll’s Scouts) marching at ease, and presents their preparation work, for example in constructing their camp. It illustrates the particular conditions of the area, showing the ‘difficulties of transport’ as three Africans paddle a ‘native dug-out boat’, and also shows the locals working with the Europeans. For example, when showing the heliographers at work, the camera reveals two uniformed African soldiers positioned behind a European man as he looks through his binoculars.

While the film is of historical import as a record of the war effort in East Africa, it is also noteworthy as a Cherry Kearton production. First, Kearton’s interest in the African landscape is evident in his filming and secondly, as a film produced by a professional filmmaker, the film has clear commercial sensibilities. This is most evident in the film’s use of titles. The opening title reads ‘Midst the lairs of wild beasts. A glimpse of the German East African country, where our soldiers are accomplishing the task of ousting the Hun’. The titles serve to sensationalise the material and, in this respect, the film differs from some of the official productions, such as With the Indian Troops at the Front. The film concludes with a night drill, complete with explosions, but the titles do not clarify this, once more dramatising the sequence with a title that states ‘In the danger zone. Native patrol scouts on the alert’.

Tom Rice (September 2009)


Works Cited

Bioscope Foreign and Export Supplement, 11 January 1917.

‘Murat – Central Africa from Coast to Coast’, Indianapolis Sunday Star, 2 May 1915, 1.

Kearton, Cherry, Adventures with Animals and Men (London: Longmans and Co., 1935).

Pocock, Geoff, ‘Cherry Kearton’ accessed at http://www.frontiersmen.org.au/kearton.htm (29 September 2009).

The Times, 8 April 1915, 10.



  • IN EAST AFRICA (Alternative)
Series Title:
OUR GRIP ON THE HUNS : Cherry Kearton War Series

Technical Data

Running Time:
10 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
580 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Kearton, Cherry
Production company
Academy Moving Picture Bureau