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KS3/4 History: TB - Indians at Arras (1915)

Use a WWI newsreel to investigate different perspectives of war.

Main image of KS3/4 History: TB - Indians at Arras (1915)
AuthorRakesh Pathak, Felsted School
TopicWWI: Western Front, Contribution of Empire troops
Key WordsEmpire, commonwealth, western front, Indian nationalism
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Indian troops shown just behind the front line, near Arras, in January 1915.

A useful piece of footage for introducing the contribution of British Empire forces to the Allied war effort during the First World War.

This lesson idea encourages students to think about how newsreels reported the conflict before challenging them to write 'scripts' for the silent footage from different perspectives. Finally, students are asked to develop a 'back story' for one of the anonymous soldiers that they can identify in the extract.

This lesson would probably work best towards the end of a unit on the First World War, when students have built up a reasonable amount of contextual knowledge.

Lesson Objective

  • To begin researching the role played by British Empire troops in the First World War
  • To analyse the nature, origin and purpose of propaganda


As students watch the newsreel, ask them to note down everything that they can infer from the footage - ie. it was shot behind the frontline, Indian soldiers involved in the fighting, some have been wounded etc.

Students should then feedback their findings as part of a class discussion, which finishes with a consideration of the following question:

  • Why might this footage have been produced by a British newsreel company?

Main Attraction

Before embarking on the main activity - ask students to read through the analysis Topical Budget: War and Propaganda (link on the right) to learn about the newsreel company's role during the conflict.

After a quick discussion about Topical Budget and propaganda, divide students into pairs, with each pair writing two separate scripts to accompany the silent footage. Both scripts should be written for a cinema audience of the time, but from two different perspectives: the Liberal Government of HH Asquith and radical Indian Nationalists (not the Indian National Congress as they supported the imperial war effort).

Obviously, the two scripts should end up with very different tones - one jingoistic while the other stresses the suffering of Indian troops in a European conflict. As the teacher moves around the various pairs, students should be encouraged to think about the purpose behind the piece of propaganda they are constructing.

If time allows (this is possibly a 'lead out' task for homework), students can then take one of the anonymous soldiers that they have seen in the extract, and provide a 'back story' for him - ie. a name, a region of India, religion, social background, reason for joining the Army etc. Students can then produce a letter from this soldier back to his family in India talking about his experiences of trench warfare and his feelings about the war and the British Empire.


End Credits

Finish by listening to two examples of each kind of script read out (in suitably strident tones!) as an accompaniment of the visual extract. This can be followed by a class debate on which written piece of propaganda would seem more valid to a modern audience and/or historian and why.


External Links
WWI exhibition from The National Archives
Sikh soldiers in WWI

Video Clips
Complete film (0:52)
Downloadable Teaching Resources

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Battle of Arras, The (1917)Battle of Arras, The (1917)

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Thumbnail image of Topical Budget 178-1: Indians at Arras (1915)Topical Budget 178-1: Indians at Arras (1915)

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Thumbnail image of Topical Budget 366-2: The Battle South of Arras (1918)Topical Budget 366-2: The Battle South of Arras (1918)

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See also

Thumbnail image of KS4 History: TB - Lusitania Day (1916)KS4 History: TB - Lusitania Day (1916)

The newsreel and anti-German propaganda.