This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: AYY 809).


Scenes from the Army Exhibition in Nairobi in September 1944. The film depicts African and European schoolboys inspecting the exhibits, before showing African soldiers – and Masai warriors – visiting. The demonstrations include drills by the King’s African Rifles.

Sergeant Kellett shows the Army Exhibition Programme (dated 3 September) to two African schoolboys. A group of African schoolgirls crowd around C.S.M. Daykin as he shows them the programme and talks. African boys gather around an armoured car, in which European boys are seated. The African boys and girls then examine the Bofors Gun, while an Askari stands beside them and offers an explanation. European boys in school uniform look through the telescopic sight on a 57m.m A/T Gun, helped by an N.C.O. (Sgt. Thomas). The film then shows a group of children crossing a Smallbox Girder bridge. African soldiers enter the exhibition and queue, before viewing the group of statuary – featuring a figure of Atlas – inside the main gate. Two chiefs spin on a Bofors gun – one chief is presented in close up – and then troops enter the Medical Corps Exhibition. A long shot of the main entrance reveals a sign stating ‘Army Exhibition 1944’, before tilting down to reveal African military personnel (one on each side), with a British Officer standing in the middle. Masai warriors examine an armoured car, alongside European children. Close-ups emphasise their braided hair and traditional costumes. The King’s African Rifles’ Band perform, and a P.T. display is given by African instructors of the Combined School of Infantry. Army Drills by the K.A.R. are watched by crowds of seated Africans, followed by further close ups of the band, conducted by a European man. The film concludes with the platoon marching towards the camera, before scattering as part of their weapons’ demonstration.


Catalogue entry by Dr Tom Rice, AHRC Colonial Film Database 2010.



The East African Army Expedition ran in Nairobi from 25 August to 3 September 1944. The film opens with footage from Children’s Day. Sergeant Heaney, the cameraman, noted on the film’s dope sheet that ‘over 2,000 schoolchildren, European, Asian, and African visited the exhibition before it was open to the general public.’

Father Capper, a missionary in East Africa who visited the exhibition, described it as ‘the eye-opener for the doubter of the African’s capabilities both as a soldier and as an artisan’. Capper also noted the technology and developments displayed within the exhibition – ‘the most complicated of modern weapons’, ‘highly technical equipment’ and ‘modern transport’. He further noted that the exhibition concluding with ‘a magnificent drill display by a battalion of the King’s African Rifles – precision, fitness and a deportment that could not but thrill anyone who had known these men a few years before’ (Blood, 1962, 93).

Sergeant Heaney’s dope sheet lists the film type as ‘newsreel’ and his notes within the sheet – for example he writes ‘Opening shot?’ below the shot of the main entrance – clearly indicate that Heaney was filming with the intention of presenting this material in newsreels. Heaney also includes contextual information within the dope sheets, as if providing, or directing, a commentary. For example, he notes the ‘figure of “Atlas” supporting the world – symbolic of the task of the United Nations in this war’. He also explains that ‘about 50 young warriors belonging to the Masai tribe were brought in by their District Commissioner to see the exhibition. They had never been to a town before. This tribe was formerly among the fiercest in Africa.’

Footage of the East African Army Exhibition was included in the Colonial Film Unit’s newsreel, The British Empire at War. The second item (of three) within News Film no. 37 was listed as ‘East African Army Exhibition in Nairobi’. Colonial Cinema described the item, explaining that ‘the camera makes a quick tour of the exhibition, stopping now and again to take a closer look at things of special interest, such as an A.A. gun and a Bailey bridge’ (Colonial Cinema, 1945, 24). The British Empire at War newsreel was predominantly designed for showing overseas by mobile cinema vans.  



The East African Army Exhibition serves as a celebration of the role of the British within East Africa and as a source of aspiration for the many African visitors. The film’s representation of these ideas can best be understood in terms of spectatorship and display, as the camera shows local Africans inspecting modern British technology, and then later presents African crowds watching African military men on display.

The exhibition highlights the technological developments used by the British – for example the Bofors gun and the armoured car – and the film, in showing African chiefs and Masai warriors examining these devices, creates a clear contrast between the ‘modern’ British, and traditional Africa. This may serve to indicate British primacy, and certainly the film emphasises the influence of the British in bringing these advances to the African public. The opening footage includes staged shots of British officers showing the exhibition programme to African schoolchildren. This presents a paternal image of the British, but the film also reveals a growing autonomy amongst the Africans. In one shot an Askari explains the functions of a gun to both African and European schoolchildren, while the film presents many shots of the African military.

This footage of the African military is significantly intercut with shots of African crowds viewing their display. This indicates the aspirational function of the exhibition for African audiences, as the African crowds are identifying with, and viewing, African role models – both in the military demonstration and within the KAR band. This also serves to illustrate, to potential British audiences, the African support for the Empire’s war effort. 

However, the African people are also presented as an exhibit in other ways. The film features ethnographic shots of the African chiefs and Masai warriors, which include close-ups of their ‘traditional dress’ and their ‘hair plastered with red clay’. These shots further emphasise the perceived division between ‘traditional’ Africa and ‘modern’ Britain, but also indicate once more the cameraman’s commercial sensibilities, as he uses shots popularly featured in British representations of Africa .

Tom Rice (June 2008)


Works Cited

Blood, A.G., The History of the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa, Volume III, 1933-1957 (London: UMCA, 1962).

Colonial Cinema, March 1945.

See the original dope sheets and shot sheets, available at the Imperial War Museum. 



Series Title:

Technical Data

Running Time:
7 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
676 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Heaney (Sergeant)
Production company
War Office Film Unit







Production Organisations