This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: COI 147).


A picture, early in the war, of the armed solidarity of the British Empire.

The film serves to illustrate its opening theme: "the Alarm sounded, and the many peoples of the Empire sprang to answer the call to service in the cause of liberty and justice". Canada's contribution illustrated by film of a destroyer, naval officers, air gunner training, infantry training in England (watched by King) and Spitzbergen raid; Australia and New Zealand by troopships, training, HMNZS Achilles' crew after Admiral Graf Spee victory) welcomed back to New Zealand, Australian convoy escorts, Eden with Australian troops in Egypt, desert training: South Africa, by a parade reviewed by Smuts; India by General Auchinleck and Indian troops marching, mounting AA Bren on carrier, in East Africa, RIN minesweeper; African colonies by film of a team of Africans manoeuvring a dismantled light field gun, etc. Restoration of Haile Selassie first victory. Closing montage of Imperial troops in action: "Is it not significant that from all parts of the world, men of every race, creed and colour are marching and fighting to the common end?"



The Empire Marches was produced for the Ministry of Information, but was intended ‘for overseas distribution only’ (Thorp, 1980, 97). While the intention may have been to screen the film throughout the Empire, Robert Cole suggested that in Ireland, where British wartime propaganda was rarely shown, any screening of The Empire Marches ‘would have elicited rude comments from the audience’ (Cole, 2006, 70).

Wendy Webster suggested that the ‘recognition of a need to address diverse audiences … meant a continuing need to show unity and loyalty’ within a ‘modern Empire, emphasizing themes of partnership and welfare’ (Webster, 2005, 326). The Empire Marches was thus one of many films – Webster also considers From the Four Corners (1941) and Britain at Bay (1940) –to endorse this unity and shared identity. This solidarity was regularly promoted through the imagery of marching, as Britain at Bay also concludes with shots of men ‘from our Great Dominions in Australia, New Zealand and Canada’ marching. Webster further noted the repeated shots of marching within newsreels – which ‘showed imperial manhood circulating around the Empire’ – and argued, in relation to The Empire Marches, that ‘marching was often a metaphor for a wider imperial unity – a multiracial community that marched together’ (Webster, 2005, 327).

Documentary News Letter was critical of this approach, complaining that ‘the newsreels confine themselves to the stamping feet of the Dominion Soldiers, but their personalities, their lives, their culture remain as remote as those of the Chinese’. The editorial argued that other films of the Empire also ‘concentrate on the fighting services and not the mode of living’ that these countries are ‘fighting to protect’ (Documentary News Letter, December 1940, 2).



The Empire Marches illustrates the solidarity of the Empire during the War, through the commentary –which is framed by references to the ‘many peoples of the Empire’ and to those men ‘from all parts of the world’ – and also through the repeated imagery used to represent common actions and ideals amongst the different nationalities.

The film most notably depicts different groups marching, united by their shared purpose, but also by their collective masculinity. The voiceover notes that ‘men of every race, creed and colour are marching and fighting to the common end’, as the ‘people of the Empire march onwards to their ultimate victory’. Yet, the soldiers are not only shown marching, but are also regularly depicted travelling in a variety of ways. For example, a train departs with ‘look out Hitler here we come’ along its side; the Canadian ships cross the Atlantic on the ‘first stage on their road to victory’; ‘From the antipodes tens of thousands of the sons of Australia and New Zealand journey’ by ship, while the South Africa troops are also loaded on ship. This highlights the troops operating outside of their own countries as part of a broader imperial force. As this is intended for overseas audiences, The Empire Marches also emphasises the ‘rewards’ and collective support for the troops. The New Zealanders return home to huge crowd scenes and a street parade; crowds cheer the South African troops; the King watches the Canadian troops, while the Maoris ‘gained the King’s special interest’.

This repeated imagery may promote a collective imperial identity at the expense of the ‘personalities’ and ‘cultures’ of the individual countries, as Documentary News Letter suggested, but the representation of the Africans would appear distinct and largely disconnected from this repeated imagery. While all the other countries travel by ship, the Africans cross the water on foot, covered to the chest as they carry parts of the field gun. While troops from the other countries meet Royal approval or enjoy street parades, the Africans walk unnoticed across the jungle. The commentary acknowledges that the efforts and ‘courage’ of the Africans ‘is hardly known outside their own country’, but the film, both in its representation and structure, diminishes the importance of the war effort of African populations. The Empire Marches begins with a lengthy consideration of the Canadian effort, before discussing Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, India and finally the ‘colonies and dependencies of Africa’. There is a clear hierarchical order here, with the African experience, while noted, still largely removed from the other imperial war experiences.

Tom Rice (April 2008)


Works Cited

Cole, Robert, Propaganda, Censorship and Irish Neutrality in the Second World War (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006).

‘The Imperial Theme’, Documentary News Letter, December 1940, 2.

Thorpe, Frances, Nicholas Pronay, Clive Coultass, British Official Films in the Second World War: A Descriptive Catalogue (Oxford: Clio Press, 1980).

Webster, Wendy, ‘The Empire Answers: Imperial Identity on Radio and Film, 1939-1945’, Rediscovering the British World, edited by Phillip Buckner and R. Douglas Francis (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2005), 321-340. 




Technical Data

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

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Ministry of Information
Production company