KAR SIGNALS : a film of routine in remote places

This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: COI 751).


The King's African Rifles' duties in the northern provinces of Kenya and Uganda are portrayed in a compilation of film and crude animated maps, the film's principle concern being the importance of communication to those duties.

A film illustrating the ways in which communications are maintained by the Signals Section of the King’s African Rifles in the Kenya-Sudan frontier area. Opening with hand-drawn maps of Africa, indicating the areas in which the King’s African Rifles operate, the film initially shows men of the Signals Section, Northern Brigade KAR setting up a radio post (at Moroto) and a heliograph post. The film shows camp life at Lokitaung – the ‘most northerly K.A.R. post’ – including firing exercises, sports and physical training. This is followed by footage of six ‘Kangas’ – the local Turkana tribesmen enlisted as scouts – who march off to gather news from across the Sudan border. They talk to a European man and then to locals. They relay information, before an African man delivers a message to a group of European men bathing by the water. A convoy of KAR vehicles drive off in response to the information gathered. The titles explain that ‘the Signals Officer visits each of his outposts as occasion offers’. Sequences trace his journey to the outpost fort over which the British flag flies. The various methods of communication are again shown, while a title explains that the signals officer keeps in touch with the nearest post each evening by radio. The film concludes with a shot of the sentry on duty.


Summary: Robert Kingston Davies is listed in the credits as Kingston Davies. He outlined the places visited within the film in a letter to E.B. Bowyer at the Colonial Office on 12 July 1937 ('Educational Films', 1936/1937, CO323/1356/5): 'In addition to Moroto and Lokitaung, which are mentioned in sub-titles, the film gives views taken on the road during a trip northward of Kamion from Moroto and back; the shot of the Signals officer looking out over a large stretch of country with one of the N.C.O's was taken looking northward from the Kamion escarpment, which is the limit of the road northward from Moroto. The shots following this, showing a small signal post on the top of a steep rocky hill, were taken at Naramum, just over the Sudan border, which I understand to be the most northerly post maintained by the K.A.R., lying as it does on the southern edge of the Ilembic Triangle. The little mud fort which is reached towards the end of the film, after shots of the Signals lorry crossing a wide expanse of sandy flats have been shown, is Fort Wilkinson at Todenyang on the western shore of Lake Rudolf near the northern end'. 'After the three shots giving general views of Lokitaung (note the pools formed by the natural spring, said to be only one in Turkana) there are sequences intended to show troops of the 4th Battalion K.A.R. at work (firing a routine course on the range) and at play. They have their own peculiar form of football, known as "Karamoja" whose chief virtue lies in its simplicity, since it has no rules at all'.



In January 1936 Robert Kingston Davies, a graduate of Balliol College, Oxford, submitted a proposal to the Colonial Office entitled ‘Scheme of an Experimental Trip for the Production of 16mm. Educational Films in East Africa in 1936’. In the proposal, Kingston Davies explained that he intended to visit East Africa in order to create a ‘type of sound documentary film illustrating the course of everyday life and the progress of civilisation under British rule in various parts of the Empire’. These films were to be ‘designed almost entirely for schools’ (‘Educational Films’, 1936/1937, CO323/1356/5).

Kingston Davies stated that he wished to film some of the activities of the King’s African Rifles – ‘the Signals Officer of The Northern Brigade happens to be an old friend’ – and E.B. Bowyer, who Kingston Davies corresponded with at the Colonial Office, explained that this was ‘entirely a matter for decision by the local authorities’. Kingston Davies’ subsequent report on his trip outlined his itinerary after his arrival in Tanga in April 1936 and confirmed that between 17 January and 11 February 1937 he was on ‘safari with the Signals Officer, Northern Brigade, K.A.R. in Karamoja and Turkana’. He further added that he ‘visited Moroto, Kamion, Lokitaung, Todenyang, Naramum, Kamathia, and Lodwar [and] also spent two days at 3rd Bn. K.A.R. training camp, Kinangop’. A letter from the Colonial Office subsequently confirmed that none of this footage was ‘taken without the consent of the local Commanding Officer’, while Kingston Davies also sought permission to sell some still photos he took with the KAR during this trip. A further note regarding the film commented that ‘there was nothing about the Abyssinian war or refugees’ (‘Educational Films’, 1936/1937, CO323/1356/5).

The Colonial Office initially expressed some concerns that Kingston Davies’ work might clash with that of the Bantu Educational Kinema Experiment (BEKE) in East Africa (see Topic essay), yet Kingston Davies constantly reiterated that his films were intended for school audiences in England, as opposed to local African audiences. He explained that he hoped to produce films ‘which would be of some value to schools in Great Britain, and which would at the same time give a plain and undistorted view of various aspects of life in the British East African Dependencies’ (‘Educational Films’, 1936/1937, CO323/1356/5).

Kingston Davies presented a cutting copy of KAR Signals and other short films – for example on the production of tea, coffee and sisal in Tanganyika – before an invited audience at the BFI on 15 July 1937. EB Bowyer told Kingston Davies that he thought KAR Signals ‘most interesting not only for school children, but for adults’. The film was also viewed here by the Geography Committee at the BFI, who offered editing advice, before Kingston Davies resubmitted five films to the Committee for review in September (‘Educational Films’, 1936/1937, CO323/1356/5).

KAR Signals was distributed by Educational and General Services Ltd, and available for hire at 2s. 6d. per day. It was evidently intended as a classroom aid, as teaching notes were also available, while a review in Monthly Film Bulletin suggested that it would be suitable as a ‘classroom instruction films for pupils of 11 or over’ (Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1937, 230). The review praised this ‘excellent film’, which ‘grips the attention and impresses on the mind some vivid pictures of the landscape and environment’. It further noted that ‘although the geography is incidental, its value is considerable and is enhanced by the movement and human interest of the film’ (Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1937, 230).

The film depicts the ‘Signals Section, Northern Brigade‘ of the King’s African Rifles in the Kenya-Sudan Frontier area. After 1929, the regiment was divided into two formations, the Northern Brigade serving in Kenya and Uganda, and a Southern Brigade in Tanganyika and Nyasaland (Lord and Watson, 2004, 347). David Killingray noted that ‘the King’s African Rifles in the 1930s built up a fleet of troop carrying vehicles for operations in the thinly peopled Northern Frontier District’, and with the introduction and extension of a policy of indirect rule, improved communication and transport across these vast areas became essential. One of the communication developments in the 1930s was the introduction of a secure radio system, operated by the police and military, which began to replace more traditional telegraph systems (Killingray, 1986, 433).

Robert Kingston Davies planned a second expedition to East Africa at the end of 1937 – a further four films from a trip in 1938 were reviewed in Monthly Film Bulletin in 1939 – and he would also return to East Africa to produce films after the War with Stewart McAllister. A note from the COI in April 1946 explained that ‘with the support of the Colonial Office, we now wish to send Major Kingston Davies back to East Africa as an outpost of the Crown Film Unit for the purpose of shooting further material to be sent home and made into further films for the Colonial Office’ (Vaughan 1983, 158).



The opening title within KAR Signals explains that ‘in the thinly-populated Northern provinces of Uganda and Kenya, law and order are kept over many thousands of square miles by a few dozen political and military officers…’. This title immediately outlines the key features of the film. First, the film is focussed on the maintenance of domestic law and order, with subsequent titles explaining that ‘if needed a large convoy can be sent off at once, to restore stolen cattle or pastures’, while British rule offers protection from ‘their neighbours raids’. In doing so, it offers no direct reference to international problems. There is, as noted in the correspondence with the Colonial Office, no indication of either the Italian invasion of Abyssinia or the resultant refugees.

Secondly, the scale of the area policed by the British is emphasised. One lengthy sequence shows Africans driving through the landscape, highlighting the distance travelled. The geography of the region is revealed through the regular maps and intertitles – for example a title reads ‘Moroto, 1936’, another ‘Lokitaung, most northerly K.A.R. post’ – which reinforce the film’s function as an educational tool, but the locations and distances travelled also serve to illustrate the organisation of the British within Africa. In particular, the film shows the modern technology and devices used by the British in ruling over this large area – ‘In remote regions Heliograph posts are set up in commanding positions’, ‘the more important posts are being equipped with wireless’ – as British transportation and radio communication are depicted.

The British are thus associated with modern technology, in contrast to the undeveloped barren and ‘remote’ land of the ‘scattered tribesmen’. The British influence in bringing modern ‘developments’ to East Africa is shown elsewhere. For example, there are shots of military training, while the Kinga are also ‘trained’ and march off in military procession. The film predominantly depicts the local Africans in action – they are even shown at leisure playing a game of ‘karamoja’ that appears as a hybrid of football, rugby and handball – yet it does not follow individual protagonists and ultimately presents these men in relation to the British, for and with whom they are working.

The film’s final intertitle further emphasises that the subject of this film remains British rule. The title explains that ‘to the scattered tribesmen of these far-off regions, British rule means that they are free from their neighbours’ raids, but also that they are bound to keep the peace themselves’. The British are again presented as a peace-keeping force of law and order, but the British policy of indirect rule is also illustrated, as the British not only protect and oversee the local Africans, but offer increased responsibility to the Africans ‘to keep the peace themselves’.

Tom Rice (June 2008)


Works Cited

‘Educational Films: Expedition to East Africa by R. Kingston Davies (1936/1937) accessed at The National Archives (CO323/1356/5).

Killingray, David, ‘The Maintenance of Law and Order in British Colonial Africa’, African Affairs Vol. 85, No. 340, July 1986, 411-437.

Lord, Cliff and Graham Watson, The Royal Corps of Signals: Unit Histories of the Corps, 1920-2001 and its Antecedents (Solihull, UK: Helion and Company, 2004).

‘KAR Signals’, Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1937, 230.

Vaughan, Dai, Portrait of an Invisible Man: The Working Life of Stewart McAllister, Film Editor (London: BFI, 1983).



  • KAR SIGNALS : a film of routine in remote places

Technical Data

Running Time:
13 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
471 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
GB (?)
Davies, Robert Kingston