This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: IWM 202-1).


Units of the former Indian Corps, just after its disbandment, in rear areas before their departure from France, November and December 1915.

The officers' mess, a building away from the battle zone, of 58th (Vaughan's) Rifles, with officers entering and leaving. Pan over a group of soldiers from 57th (Wilde's) Rifles. An outdoor "durbar" (orderly room) for 47th Sikhs - some officers sit while three new soldiers are paraded before them and perform the ritual of offering the blades of their bayonets for each officer in turn to touch as a symbol of loyalty. An open air workshop for the Sappers and Miners at which they shape wood, making wooden trench periscopes. Gurkhas sharpen their kukris on a grindstone. A demonstration of a "Khattak" or ritual sword dance. Sikhs in formal wrestling bouts which others watch. 34th Sikh Pioneers dig shallow trenches from start to completion with a sandbag parapet and coiled wire in front. 57th (Wilde's) Rifles machine gun section demonstrates setting up its two Maxims in a wood and then retiring with them. At a "refilling point" on a muddy road British and Indian soldiers collect food and fodder for their horses. 4th Cavalry entrains its horses and waits for the order to load its men.


Date: this film was the very first of the OFFICIAL PICTURES OF THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE and so represents the first British official film record of any of the war zones released for public viewing.

Cameraman: this was either Malins or Tong.

Summary: this film was subject to censorship at GHQ France. The resulting censored sections are now in IWM 383.



With the Indian Troops at the Front was released in two sections in January 1916, as part of the first series of official war pictures. Its production was the result of protracted negotiations between an influential group of news film companies, known as the Topical Committee of the Kinematograph Manufacturers’ Association, and the War Office. The government was initially reluctant to cooperate with commercial film companies, but by August 1915 it finally granted permission for two cameramen to visit British GHQ. Disagreements over the details of the project briefly led to its postponement, but on 25 October the Topical Committee signed a contract for the ‘production and exhibition of official film within the British Empire’ (Malins, 1993, xix).

Early on the morning of 2 November 1915, the two selected cameramen – Geoffrey Malins of Gaumont and Edward George Tong of Jury’s Imperial Pictures – set off from Charing Cross on a wage of £1 a day and with their lives insured by the War Office for £1,000 each. Their trip lasted a fortnight, and when the two men returned on 17 November, they were reported to have ‘about ten thousand feet of really interesting film of beautiful quality’ (Hiley, 1993, 143).

This material was quickly edited into six short films, which were given a trial exhibition at British Headquarters on 30 November. The films were shown to the press on 4 January, before the first part of With the Indian Troops at the Front was released on 17 January, followed a week later by part II. The trade bought over seventy copies of each section at a cost of more than £1,400, ensuring that the films played throughout the country (Hiley, 1993, 143). 

It may appear surprising that footage of Indian troops should feature so prominently within the first set of official war pictures. Reviews noted a popular fascination with the Indian material. A Times correspondent argued that ‘the views of the Indian troops will at least have much of the charm of novelty’, while a subsequent review suggested that Indians were ‘always a picturesque and popular subject’ (The Times, 2 December 1915, 7; 5 January 1916, 11). However, the focus on Indian troops may be explained by the earlier work of Hilton DeWitt Girdwood. Although Malins and Tong have been widely credited as the first cameramen to work officially in the British sector, film historian Nicholas Hiley showed that Girdwood actually preceded both men in filming as an official cameraman with the British army on the Western front between July and September 1915.

Girdwood had a particular interest in filming Indian troops. Having lived in India since 1903, he had set out in 1914 with the first units of the Indian Expeditionary Force ‘determined to make a photographic record of their service overseas’. He wanted to take photographs and films to strengthen India’s support for the war (‘I found that nothing so impressed the vast multitudes of the East as pictorial representation’) and emphasised to the India Office the importance of making these films ‘so that Indians may see with their own eyes the actual state of affairs and how well the Indians are being looked after in camp, in trench, and in hospital’ (Hiley, 1993, 131). GHQ intelligence had already expressed some concerns about possible unrest amongst Indian troops in France and suggested that ‘popularising the Indian E[xpeditionary] F[orce]’ could help to alleviate this apparent unrest (Hiley, 1993, 130). Significantly, the man responsible for organising Girdwood’s film excursions, Captain John Faunthorp, would assume a similar role for Malins and Tong. Hiley noted that Malins and Tong were ‘taken on similar assignments, enabling them to duplicate large amounts of Girdwood’s footage’ – for example, filming an Indian wrestling match (Hiley, 1993, 143). Girdwood’s previous trip, and his interest in Indian troops, may therefore have directed the subjects filmed within this first batch of official films.

The War Office’s agreement with the Topical Committee ensured that With the Indian Troops and the other official productions were the only films from the war front passed for exhibition in Britain. This agreement scuppered Girdwood’s plans to release his films commercially in eight short parts (he was eventually able to present his footage as part of a lecture from September 1916 under the title With the Empire Fighters). However, the official pictures could not be exhibited in India (or Egypt). With the Indian Troops thus did not present the work of the Indian troops back to Indian audiences. Furthermore, by the time these films were released, the Indian troops had been withdrawn from France. Consequently reviews emphasised the films’ role in promoting imperial collaboration and in showing the efforts of the Indian troops to British audiences. The Times wrote that the Indian pictures ‘helped us all to realise how strange and trying must be the conditions under which these sons of the East heroically work and fight’ (The Times, 5 January 1916, 11). Upon the public release of the first set of films the paper added that ‘the pictures now placed before the public are concerned chiefly with our brave and resourceful Indian troops and give interesting glimpses of the character and life of the dusky soldiers who, after fighting through one winter of snow and rain and mud, have been transferred, it is understood, to scenes less strange and climatically less trying’ (The Times, 18 January 1916, 5).

The first set of films was not particularly well received. The Evening News published an extensive report in March 1916 suggesting that picture theatre managers were boycotting the official war pictures. The Topical Film Agency strongly rejected these claims, stating that ‘the sales of these Official War topicals are phenomenal, when it is remembered how disappointing the first series proved to be when shown to the trade’ (KW, 9 March 1916, 13). Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly explained that ‘the first series somewhat dampened the enthusiasm of the exhibitors, but the second series has more than atoned for the lack of strength and interest from which the first effort suffered’ (KW, 9 March 1916, 3). Luke McKernan has more recently deemed this first set ‘a disappointment’, and a ‘product of official interference and organisational naivety … mostly depicting scenes of drilling and training, all well behind lines’ (McKernan, 1991, 37). 



With the Indian Troops offers rare footage of the Indian troops serving on the Western front. While it did not play to Indian audiences – as Girdwood claimed was the primary intention for his earlier film expedition – it did demonstrate to British audiences the role of Indians, and imperial troops, within the war effort.

The film brings together the varied material of Indian troops filmed during Malins and Tongs’ first official filming expedition, but it makes no attempt to link these sequences within a narrative. Indeed, while Girdwood’s films involved a ‘liberal’ use of fakes, With the Indian Troops avoids sensationalising the material, appearing, as Nicholas Reeves argued, ‘transparently honest’ in its approach. Reeves noted that the titles are all ‘short, sparse, factual; not a single word that hints at special pleading’ (Reeves, 1986, 150). Although this approach would, to an extent, direct the expectations and requirements from future war films, the critical reaction to these initial films would suggest that it ignored the commercial expectations of filmgoers at the time.

Although initially intended as one film, there are notable differences between parts I and II. The footage in part I shows scenes of preparation and life behind the lines (with British supervision often evident within the frame). It highlights the Indian appearance – for example when showing the different ‘types’ of Indian soldiers lined up at the Officers’ mess – and their particular customs (for example, ‘a Kahattak dance’ and ‘Sikhs wrestling’). Part II shows the marching and movement of the troops. The film here uses the familiar device of showing troops walking towards, and then beyond, the camera, which is now positioned slightly above the activity. Nicholas Reeves noted that ‘three-quarters of the film is taken up with shots composed in this way!’ (Reeves, 1986, 153). There are now far fewer shots, with each lasting for much longer. This formal shift offers a more detached, formal and regimented representation, highlighting the sense of order and, in particular, the scale of the Indian involvement. Such sequences also traditionally offered an opportunity for audiences to pick out familiar faces, as hundreds of men walk past the camera. However, this film was playing to non-Indian audiences, and so this notion of recognition is removed.

The two parts of the film do however share a common ideological purpose. Both parts emphasise the distinct appearance and customs of the Indian troops, yet present them within the British army, performing valuable and familiar tasks. The films thus illustrate this distinct Indian force – and more broadly the disparate imperial troops – united within the British army and in their support for the Empire.

Tom Rice (September 2009)


Works Cited

‘Official Pictures of the British Army in France’, Bioscope, 6 January 1916, 89.

Hiley, Nicholas, ‘Hilton DeWitt Girdwood and the Origins of British Official Filming’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 13.2 (1993), 129–148.

‘Official War Films Now Coming into Own’, Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly, 9 March 1916, 3.

‘Is there a Boycott of the Official War Films?’, Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly, 9 March 1916, 13.

‘War Films and the Press’, Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly, 16 March 1916, B.

Malins, Geoffrey, How I Filmed the War, with introduction by Nicholas Hiley (London: Imperial War Museum, 1993).

McKernan, Luke, Topical Budget: The Great British News Film (London: BFI, 1991).

Reeves, Nicholas, Official British Film Propaganda During the First World War (London: Croom Helm, 1986).

‘Fighting Men at Work and Play’, The Times, 2 December 1915, 7.

'Films of the Front’, The Times, 5 January 1916, 11.

‘Films of the War’, The Times, 18 January 1916, 5.



Series Title:

Technical Data

Running Time:
9 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
522 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
War Office
Malins, Geoffrey H (?)
Tong, Edward G (?)
Production company
British Topical Committee for War Films