This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: IWM 440-2).


Semi-contemporary material of the first British forces in France and the creation of the massed armies in Britain at the start of the First World War, 1914-1916.

Arrival of the Indian Corps in Marseilles in September 1914. A montage of recruiting posters. Civilians are exhorted to join the Army. They queue at the Central London Recruiting Office in Westminster. Good interior shots of the recruiting hall, showing men waiting to join up and clerks taking details. A new recruit swears on the bible. New recruits, and civilian cars requisitioned by the government. Welshmen of 38th Division prepare to lay up their regimental colours in the Guildhall before going overseas. "From the four corners of the World, Britain's sons rallied to the flag to save the Empire and to crush German Kaiserism, the would-be God of the universe, the despoiler of nations, the enslaver of civilisations." Troops from Canada, Australia and New Zealand (? probably Australian 1st Division) in France. Egyptians are recruited for the Egyptian Labour Corps and fighting troops, who "leave amid the cheers for the battlefields of France" (no Egyptian fighting troops served in France). British destroyers escort troop crossings over the English Channel in gale conditions. Meanwhile, for the regulars in the front line "mud was everywhere - they ate in it, drank in it, slept in it, swore and cursed in it, prayed to God and fought in it, but like true Britons they HELD ON". Troops of the Guards Division in the Loos sector in December 1915 in very muddy conditions. At a station in Britain a Highland regiment boards a troop train, "hold on lads, we're coming !"


Summary: see Notes to IWM 440-01. Probably most of the material in this reel was filmed post-1914. The 'mud' sequence comes from IWM 207 and IWM 208



Historian Nicholas Reeves discussed Our Empire’s Fight for Freedom in his study of First World War film propaganda. ‘The evidence of the film itself’, he argued, ‘suggests that it was not the work of the official film-makers’. Over a third of the film (35.7%) was taken up with titles, while the ‘style of the language, [and] the ideology it conveyed was wholly different from that in the official films’. Reeves acknowledged that the film ‘certainly drew on official film’, but although some titles suggested that it was released during the war, ‘the film was neither advertised nor reviewed by the trade press during the war, nor is there any reference to it in official papers’ (Reeves, 1986, 183).

While Our Empire’s Fight for Freedom may differ from official productions, it is indicative of a broader trend towards compilation series produced from official war material. Another series, in ten reels released across five weekly parts, Sons of Our Empire, indicates that these series were often presented within an imperial context. Sons of Our Empire (known also as Sons of the Empire) played widely overseas, and when it played in New Zealand, the reviewer noted that ‘the presence on the screen of men from India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand accentuates the truly imperial character of the British army of today’ (Grey River Argus, 20 December 1917, 3). Advertisements noted that the film showed ‘our New Zealand boys in the trenches’, while proceeds went to ‘comforts for our fighting men’ (Grey River Argus, 21 December 1917, 1).

A full-page review for Sons of Our Empire in Bioscope in March 1917 noted that ‘while some of the matter is not entirely new, there is so much that is essentially novel that the whole makes a very effective series’ (Bioscope, 29 March, 1917, 1299). Rachael Low, in writing about both series, emphasised the importance of the titles in re-contextualising this existing footage. These two films, ‘whose intellectual approach most nearly approximated to latter-day documentary relied largely on titles for the integration of their material and its interpretation’. In particular, she argued, Our Empire’s Fight for Freedom was ‘welded together with very long titles giving the political, social and military background of the times’ (Low, 1950, 158). Reeves further argued that ‘its emphasis on words and illustrations to convey both a “reality” and an ideology which is simply not there in the footage itself, is entirely consistent with the images and ideology of war which dominated most First World War propaganda’. He concluded though that no official war films ‘indulge in the propaganda of hate which characterises Our Empire’s Fight for Freedom’ (Reeves, 1986, 184).



Our Empire’s Fight for Freedom uses many, often lengthy, titles to re-contextualise and dramatise existing footage. In particular this issue emphasises the imperial response to the war – and the popular support for the Empire – and this is achieved primarily though the written text. For example, the film opens with a quote from the King’s message ‘to the Princes and people of India and his other self-governing Dominions’ in September 1914, in which the King talks of ‘the liberties of my Empire’. Before there has even been any film footage, the title explains that ‘India immediately sends a first instalment of two divisions to Europe to defend the Empire’. These opening titles thus emphasise the immediate response and support of the colonies and dominions, their concern to ‘defend the Empire’ and the role of the King in bringing together ‘my Empire’. The footage of Indian troops is contained within one very brief sequence, and yet through the titles – a later one reiterates that ‘India has already sent her first two divisions’ – Indian support for the war is emphasised.

The film next highlights the recruiting efforts in London – which includes a succession of ‘typical posters of the great recruiting campaign’ displayed on garden gates – before outlining the response of the individual dominions. A title notes here that ‘From the four corners of the world, Britain’s sons rallied to the flag to save the Empire and to crush German Kaiserism the would be God of the universe; the despoiler of nations; the enslaver of civilisation’. This certainly illustrates the ‘propaganda of hate’ that Reeves noted was particular to this series, but it also reiterates the dominions’ position in relation to Britain. The next title is headlined ‘The Empire’s loyalty’ as each country’s immediate support and response is outlined through the text. The titles indicate that Australia declared their support to the ‘last man and last shilling’, that New Zealand decided to send ‘every available man immediately’ and that General Botha made a ‘stirring successful appeal to South Africa’. Each country is introduced by familiar national images and a brief clip. Both Australia and Egypt are represented by scenes of celebration, as the troops enthusiastically wave hats and jump at the camera. In highlighting Egyptian support for the British war effort, a title explains that ‘Egyptians rally to the help of their benefactors’, adding that ‘Under careful British instructors they are quickly turned into efficient soldiers of Empire’. Again, this title illustrates both the British role in instructing and developing these foreign subjects, and the role of these colonial troops in serving the Empire.

Although the production and exhibition history of Our Empire’s Fight for Freedom is unclear, the series is indicative of the way in which titles are used to re-contextualise existing war footage, and in particular of the ways in which producers related official war material to the Empire. The film highlights imperial support from the Dominions, India and Egypt – there is no mention of the rest of Africa or the Caribbean – and emphasises the unquestioned immediacy of this response. While this series was not widely exhibited, presenting the war within an imperial context ensured that similar series, such as Sons of Our Empire, often played extensively overseas, bringing not only the footage of imperial troops in action, but also the messages of imperial co-operation and continued loyalty to a wider imperial audience.

Tom Rice (September 2009)


Works Cited

‘Sons of our Empire’, Bioscope, 29 March 1917, 1299.

‘Peerless Pictures’, Grey River Argus, 20 December 1917, 3.

Grey River Argus, 21 December 1917, 1.

Low, Rachael, The History of British Film, Volume III, 1914-1918 (London: Allen and Unwin, 1950).

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




Technical Data

Running Time:
17 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
1070 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries: