This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: AYY 832).


Two new African recruits look up in wonder at the signal flags of the W.D. Fleet. A squad of African troops march, before Sergeant M’Cabe calls the squad to attention. The film shows Semaphore training – the training squad watches the flags and write messages in the sand – before the African recruit – listed in the Dope and Shot sheets as Charles – attempts to tie a knot. Charles shows the knot to the instructor, Sergeant Chapman, who shakes his head. An African instructor on a dry land boat now illustrates the uses of the compass to the group. Two Africans – including Charles – nervously get into a rowing boat and are pushed out to sea, while the European instructor shouts instructions from the shore. The instructor throws his hat down in frustration as Charles pulls the oars out of the rowlocks. The training switches again as Charles is hauled to the top of the mast, where he performs tasks. This is followed by shots of the motor fishing vessel. Finally, at the passing out parade, Charles walks towards a table where Lieutenant Littler, with Sergeant M’Cabe alongside him, presents Charles with his sailor’s hat. Charles wears the hat, before the group march past the camera, while Lieutenant Littler salutes.

(Reel 2) The second sequence was taken at an army leave hostel in Mombasa and opens with shots of palm trees, before tilting down to reveal the huts. C.Q.M.S. Thomas of the King’s African Rifles leans out of his window and calls his neighbours, who walk towards the sea in their swimming trunks. They pass a ball around, and Sergeant Deakin then gets into a converted canoe, which immediately – and repeatedly - capsizes. Finally, the men relax under the trees. One uses a coconut for a pillow, while another covers his head with a book as he sleeps. The final shot shows bathers in the sea.

The training of East Africans within the Water Transport Company and shots of British men relaxing at the Army Leave Hostel in Mombasa, Kenya.



A publicity release from the Public Relations office of the East African Command outlined the importance of the Water Transport training course in Mombasa. The report suggested that the training transformed Africans who ‘know little or nothing of the sea’ into ‘efficient watermen’ who ‘perform a vital job of work for the army’. In illustrating the training process, the release largely described the activities displayed within the film, further noting that ‘the training is hard, but the askari soon become enthusiastic, and their greatest ambition is the winning of the sailor’s cap that is issued to each man when he achieves proficiency in his work’ (‘The Army’s Sailors. Water Transport Company in East Africa’).

Further information was provided, as the report explained that ‘the unit – the only one of its kind in East Africa – is the Water Transport Company of the E.A.A.S.C. [East African Army Service Corps], and in effect is a supply and transport company afloat’. The company’s headquarters were in Mombasa, but ‘it is already operating in Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam, Tanga, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles, and shortly its activities are to be extended to Berbera and Mogadisciu’. Ashley Jackson noted that by 1944 there were six East African Army Service Corps general transport companies and ‘about 230,000 East Africans were serving at the peak of the region’s mobilisation’ (Jackson, 2006, 185). 

The report also emphasised the achievements and rapid progress made by the serving Africans. One officer was quoted as saying ‘already they [the Africans] are doing shipwright’s work that I never expected them to master’, and certainly their work often challenged popularly held attitudes and assumptions. Training and education was afforded particular prominence within the East African Command, noted by Ashley Jackson, as the War Office limited the number of Europeans allowed in East African forces. The East African Command’s Education Corps and School of Education trained Africans ‘as clerks, medical orderlies, signalers, teachers, censors, gunners, engineers and tradesmen’, and in the process, the army became the third largest educational institution in the region. ‘Much of this disturbed the white settlers of Colonial Africa’, Jackson argued, as many ‘believed that education for “natives” needed to be strictly controlled’ (Jackson, 2006, 186).

In a release from the Ministry of Information offices in Nairobi in October 1944, the East African Command Public Relations Department outlined the benefits of the Army Leave Hostel at Nyali, just outside Mombasa, which was opened by the Directorate of Education and Welfare in November 1943. The release described the wide range of facilities available to the soldiers – ‘there are also a reading and writing room and a lounge with easy chairs, a radio and such games as chess, draughts, cards and darts’ – further reporting that ‘a holiday at the Nyali leave hostel, which is for British Other ranks only, costs the soldier only a shilling a day’. The report detailed that the needs of serving women were also catered for at the nearby Mombasa Women’s United Services Club, ‘even down to a room where facilities are provided for sewing and ironing’ (‘Army Leave Hostel Opens at Mombasa’, MOI 381). 



Both sequences contain a clear narrative and are evidently intended as newsreel items, however they address different aspects of the war experience and appear to cater to different audiences. The first sequence – addressing the training of Africans within the water transport company – presents an African protagonist. Significantly the ‘dope sheet’, which clearly directed the intended commentary for the newsreel, refers to this figure as ‘Charles’ and follows his progress during the training course. Charles is initially introduced in uniform looking up in wonder at the signal flags, emphasising his pride in serving within the army. Certainly, in both presenting an African protagonist and in depicting British military life as a source of aspiration for the locals, the film targets an African audience.

On the one hand, as the report suggests, the film challenges some popular perceptions of the Africans by showing them performing skilled work, yet in order to show their development, the film initially resorts to demeaning stereotypes about the incompetence of African people. The film shows Charles’ initial failures to perform tasks – such as tying a knot – and in particular his fear and ineptitude in water. In a clearly staged sequence, the European instructor throws down his hat in frustration, as a nervous Charles – who had initially clung to the sides of the boat – unsuccessfully attempts to row. The film’s narrative is thus reliant on showing African failings in order to fulfil its primary aim: to show the role of the British in helping and teaching the Africans. The final shots of the section – in which Charles receives his sailor’s cap – again stress the alleged pride that the Africans felt in serving the Empire.

While the training sequence ostensibly focuses on the African military experience – albeit shown from a distinctly British perspective in emphasising both African development under British supervision and African loyalty towards the Empire – the second sequence focuses entirely on the leisure time of the British, and is clearly intended for British audiences. The cameraman again constructs a narrative and stages scenes – for example the initial shots introducing the men – but the film now presents a manufactured British ‘space’ within Africa, which is devoid of any Africans.

Both films are supported by concurrent documents produced by the East African Command Public Relations Department. This once more illustrates the clear function of these army films in working alongside other forms of propaganda.

Tom Rice (July 2008)


Works Cited

Jackson, Ashley, The British Empire and the Second World War (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2006).

‘Army Leave Hostel Opens at Mombasa’ from the Public Relations Headquarters, East African Command, 30 October 1944 (MOI 381).

‘The Army’s Sailors. Water Transport Company in East Africa’, from the Public Relations Headquarters, East African Command, accessed at the Imperial War Museum (824/1).

See the original dope sheets and shot sheets, available at the Imperial War Museum.

For further information on the training of Africans within the Water Transport Company see also The Corps Journal, March 1946. 



Series Title:

Technical Data

Running Time:
11 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
1070 ft (ca)

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Heaney (Sgt)
Production company
War Office Film Unit







Production Organisations