This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: AYY 754).


Private Valentino Owori of the East African Pioneer Corps receives the British Empire Medal from Lieutenant General R.G.W.H. Stone, Commander of the British Forces in Egypt.

General Stone arrives by car and meets the officers. He then inspects the African troops on parade – close ups reveal the badge on their headwear – while the band of the King’s African Rifles play. The musicians are shown reading their music as they play. Two African men then walk towards camera. The Colonel reads the citation and Private Owori is awarded his medal. The medal is put on, and they shake hands. The two Africans salute and march away. General Stone gives his address and then the Africans soldiers, led by the King’s African Rifles Band, march past. The General salutes them beneath the British flag. Some additional insert shots are then included; medium and close-up shots of Owuri, shot from below; a close-up of the medal being pinned on; the two African men saluting; the officers marching past an American flag; Owuri collecting his medal and walking off from different camera positions; a long shot showing the band marching past the general; and finally further shots of the band marching.



Sergeant Chris Windows, the cameraman for this film, reported on the film’s ‘dope sheet’ that ‘for a deed of great gallantry an African soldier was today presented with the British Empire medal by Lieutenant General R.G.W.H. Stone’. Although the ceremony took place on 10 May 1944, The Times noted the award on 7 January in its list of Army awards for services in the Middle East, and Owori’s act of bravery had occurred during 1943 (The Times, 7 January 1944, 2).  Sergeant Windows described how ‘last year this man rushed into a mass of blazing boxes, and, by throwing un-burnt boxes clear, stopped the fire spreading until the arrival of the Fire Brigade’ (‘Dope sheet, A754’).

Lieutenant General R.G.W.H. Stone, who presented Private Owori with his medal, had begun his military career as a 12-year-old in 1902 during the Boer War, serving with the Aliwal North District Mounted Troops. He was appointed General Officer Commanding British troops in Egypt in February 1942 (The Times, 4 February 1942).

The filmed footage from the ceremony was evidently intended for use in newsreels, and did subsequently feature in the final edition of the Colonial Film Unit’s monthly newsreel series ‘The British Empire at War’. The first section in ‘News Film No. 39’ was entitled East Africa: Private Owori receives the British Empire Medal and the synopsis in Colonial Cinema explained that ‘Private Owori, of the East African Pioneers, was decorated for great bravery in a fire at a stores depot’ (Colonial Cinema, March 1945, 24). The footage was evidently suitable for the newsreel, as Rosaleen Smyth noted that The British Empire at War ‘did not show the actual war but a string of sequences designed to boost morale’. The newsreel was intended for African audiences and exhibited by mobile cinema vans (Smyth, 1988, 293). 



Private Owori received his medal before sections drawn from nine companies of the East African Pioneer Corps. The ceremony clearly served as a very public display of African achievement, encouraging an African military audience to watch and identify with Owori. The filmed footage encouraged similar processes of identification, but now extended this audience to non-military personnel. Furthermore, the film was now able to emphasise specific aspects of the ceremony and direct the African audience’s reading of this event.

By looking closely at the additional filmed inserts, contemporary viewers can gain a better understanding of the ways in which the filmmakers wished to present this ceremony to the African public. For example, one insert shows a close-up of white and black hands shaking. This very deliberately serves to emphasise the imperial collaboration between the Africans and Europeans. Further inserts focus on the medal placed on Owori’s chest, which is prioritised as a symbol of the recognition now afforded to the African war effort. Both of these inserts illustrate an awareness on the part of the British of the need to promote and acknowledge the role of the Africans within the war effort. The close-ups of the military uniform and flags – along with the British Empire Medal itself – further serve to position the Africans within the British Empire.

The close-up inserts of Owori highlight that he is very clearly the film’s protagonist – reiterating that this film is intended primarily for African audiences – yet Owori serves more broadly as a representative of all Africans. Sergeant Windows’ ‘dope sheet’ indicates this, as he notes that ‘an African soldier’ was awarded the medal and titles the footage ‘Lt. Gen. Stone presents B.E.M. to East African’. The ceremony allowed African military personnel to celebrate, through Owori, ‘their’ achievement within the war and ‘their’ position within the Empire. The film added another layer within the spectatorial process – watching the military personnel watching Owori collecting his medal – and now encouraged a wider audience, comprised of civilians as well, to identify and share in Owori’s achievement.

Tom Rice (July 2008)


Works Cited

‘The British Empire at War’, Colonial Cinema, March 1945, 24.

Smyth, Rosaleen, ‘The British Colonial Film Unit and sub-Saharan Africa, 1939-1945’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 8 (1988), 285-298.

‘Army Awards: Services in the Middle East’, The Times, 7 January 1944, 2.

‘New G.O.C. in Egypt’, The Times, 4 February 1942, 4.

See the original dope sheets (A754), available at the Imperial War Museum. 



Series Title:

Technical Data

Running Time:
4 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
420 ft (ca)

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Windows, Chris (Sergeant)
Production company
War Office Film Unit