INDIAN NEWS PARADE NO 70 [Main Title]

Catalogue number
  • INR 70
Department
Film
Production date
1944-07-14
Place made
India
Subject period
Dimensions
  • whole: Number Of Items/reels/tapes 1
Creator
Category
film

© IWM

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Physical description

35mm

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I. "WEST AFRICAN'S ROLE IN INDIA'S DEFENCE" West African troops, "toughened by the toughest climate in the world", arrive in Burma for jungle warfare training and assault courses. They then fight the enemy for six months behind Japanese lines in the Arakan. Commentary notes that "West Africans believe, to be a man at all, you've got to fight". Scenes of "Negro soldiers" knotting together bamboo boats, with "ancestral skill in their fingers", kneeling in coracles. West African gunnery impresses Lieutenant-General Nosworthy while commentary gives Sergeant Noma Bede and Mosa Conga special mention as an example of the type of Chindits making the news.

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II. "MAHRATTAS MAKES THE PACE IN ITALY" Troops behind 'Macbeth' style tree camouflage on wheels enter ruined Italian cities. With bullet-ridden windscreen, an Army car draws up at former Fascist headquarters, now flying the Union Jack. Italian peasants meet Indian soldiers and "find them very human". Mahrattas show how Indian dhobis wash clothes, "thus adding to the general ruin".

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III. "DHUNDS' WAR CONFERENCE" Commander-in-Chief General Auchinleck revisits the Dhunds after forty years. The Dhunds read out an address welcoming him, "but it also asked a question" regarding the future of the Indian armed forces after the war. A presentation sword and a purse for the Soldier's Welfare Fund are presented to the Commander-in-Chief, who answers the question that only the educated soldier will have a future.

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Enhanced data reproduced from COLONIAL FILM CATALOGUE - www.colonialfilm.org.uk

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CONTEXT

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In an article in January 1944 entitled ‘West Africans in India: Experts in Jungle Warfare’, The Times stated that ‘a force of West African troops, who are among the finest jungle fighters in the world, is now serving in the Indian theatre’. The report claimed that ‘many of these West Africans are jungle-dwellers, and are naturally more trained for jungle warfare than Indian troops’, subsequently noting that ‘the Japanese have acquired their skill at jungle fighting by a long term programme of training, but these West Africans have an instinct for it that can never be learned’ (The Times, 14 January 1944, 3).

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The report also noted that ‘this is the first time that a West African expeditionary force has been sent overseas’. The first auxiliary groups with the 81st West African Division had gone to India in September 1943, before those with the 82nd Division followed in May 1944 (Killingray 1986, 72). The Times reported in February 1944 that ‘it is now disclosed that West African troops are in action in Arakan’, operating in the Kaledan valley (The Times, 12 February 1944, 14). The 3rd West African Brigade served as part of the 20,000-strong Chindits, which embarked on the biggest behind-the-lines operation of the War – Operation Thursday – from March 1944.

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The main Japanese thrust towards India began in March 1944, in part, Ashley Jackson argues, ‘in the hope of precipitating a civilian revolt against British rule’. In April the Japanese were driven back, until they began to withdraw from Kohima at the end of May, and from Imphal by the end of June (Jackson, 2006, 397-8). The newsreel also features Lieutenant General Nosworthy, the Commander-in-Chief, West Africa, who arrived in India on 18 May 1944. During his trip, Nosworthy attended a series of conferences, at which he discussed the deployment of African troops, while he also visited some of the West Africans who had served in action (The Times, 19 May 1944, 4).

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Throughout 1944, Indian News Parade showed footage of Indian troops in Italy. Philip Woods suggests that Indian News Parade initially ‘found difficulty in obtaining actual war footage from the Burma front, so footage of Indian troops overseas was used quite often, and emphasis was placed on the importance of Indian troops in the war, and the care that was being taken of these troops’ (Woods, 2000, 105). Sir Syed Sultan Ahmed, Government Minister for Information and Broadcasting, recognised the demand for more films ‘of Indian troops in action’ but explained in August 1944 that military authorities were ‘faced with a man power problem and with lack of equipment’ which restricted filming, while the ‘night fighting in Italy’ was not conducive to good photography. ‘Nevertheless’, he continued, ‘those of you who follow the Indian News Parade will have noticed that there is sometimes as much as 500 feet devoted to the services and an increasing proportion is of actual operations’ (Indian Information, 15 September 1944, 269). Indian News Parade 67, which showed camouflaged Mahrattas driving through Italy, as well as issues 68, and 72 all included footage from Italy, while Woods further noted a recurring emphasis on Mahratta loyalty, which was apparent in Indian News Parade 90 and in issue 115, which showed the first Mahratta recipient of the Victoria Cross (Woods, 2000, 105).

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The final item depicts the Dhund’s War Conference, which was held at Murree Hills. General Auchinleck’s speech here concluded with a call for unity. ‘I would like to say to you that in Union lies strength’, he stated, ‘we need all our strength if we are to win through and we should not waste it quarrelling with each other’ (Indian Information, 1 August 1944, 127). The item focuses in particular on the ‘prospects for Indian armed forces after the War’. The man appointed Secretary to the Reorganising Committee, which was responsible for deciding the future of the Indian army, was Enoch Powell. Powell travelled extensively around India and contributed to the final report, in which he recommended that it would be a further twenty-five years before the Indian army was ready for Independence.

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ANALYSIS

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This edition of Indian News Parade represents African soldiers to an Indian audience. First, the commentary defines the soldiers, not as part of the broader Empire, but distinctly as ‘West Africans’ – ‘Negroes get together… proudly say ‘We’re all West Africans’ – emphasising the perceived inherent physiological characteristics that define and separate them from other imperial soldiers. The Africans are, the commentator states, ‘born fit, toughened by the toughest climate in the world’, but this film differs slightly from other British propaganda films – for example West Africa was There (1945) – and from press and government reports, which presented the West Africans as inherently suited to jungle conditions. Here, the commentator highlights the benefit of British training – ‘trained’ and ‘taught’, the West Africans were equipped for war – as the newsreel endorses a message of British development and training.

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The commentary does challenge some stereotypes. For example, the commentator explains that the West Africans make good gunners, ‘surprising everybody but those that knew them well’, and shows that ‘the mechanical mind is not the privilege of any one race’. This does also indicate the wide currency of these stereotypes. Indeed, the newsreel uses the image of a still undeveloped Africa – referring to the work of their ‘forefathers’, the ‘primitive boat building’ and talking of a land where ‘the only highways are riverways’ – in part, it would seem, to privilege the Indian viewer and promote the exalted position of the Indians within this imperial hierarchy. This is particularly evident as the commentator talks of India’s ‘West African defenders’. The commentary does not directly present India in relation to either the Empire or Britain here, but clearly infers that imperial co-operation is providing protection for India.

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The second item, ‘Mahrattas Make the Pace in Italy’, offers further footage from the Italian campaign – following closely on the heels of two of the previous three editions – and initially promotes a patriotic image of British victory, as it shows the ‘one time fascist headquarters now flying the Union Jack’. In particular, the film attempts to outline the loyalty of the Mahrattas to the Empire, although again the flippant British commentary serves to distance the viewer from the Indians depicted on screen. The commentator states here that ‘Italian peasants, expecting Indian troops to enter mounted on elephants, performing rope tricks find them very human’, before adding that ‘Mahrattas show how Indian dhobis wash clothes, thus adding to the general ruin’.

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This image of imperial loyalty and camaraderie is further emphasised in the final item, as General Auchinleck visits the Dhunds, described as ‘old friends’ whom ‘he fought beside’ in the previous war. The newsreel shows both Mahrattas and Dhunds, who were historical opponents to British rule, united and supporting the war effort. This item, in its emphasis on a united India and particular in its proposals for post-war India, illustrates the growing distance between the colonial narrative expounded within Government propaganda and the demands of Indian nationalists. The post-war plans discussed here – which were written by amongst others, Enoch Powell - outlined gradual change and suggested that the Indian army could be independent of the British army in twenty-five years. The report was widely discredited by Indian nationalists and in three years, India would be celebrating her independence.

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Tom Rice (October 2008)

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WORKS CITED

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‘Gen. Auchinleck Addresses Dhund War Board Meeting’, Indian Information, 1 August 1944, 127.

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‘Publicity Problems in War and Peace: Sir Sultan Ahmed’s Address to Advisory Committee’, Indian Information, 15 September 1944.

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

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Killingray, David, ‘Labour Mobilisation in British Colonial Africa for the War Effort, 1939-1946’, Africa and the Second World War, edited by David Killingray and Richard Rathbone (London: MacMillan, 1986).

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‘West Africans in India: Experts in Jungle Warfare’, The Times, 14 January 1944, 3.

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‘West Africans In Burma Clashes With Japanese’, The Times, 12 February 1944, 4.

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‘Gains By The 8th Army’, The Times, 15 July 1944, 4.

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Woods, Philip, ‘”Chapattis by Parachute”: The Use of Newsreels in British Propaganda in India in the Second World War’, Journal of South Asian Studies, 23:2 (2000), 89-110.

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