A video call from Burma during the Second World War

This film is from an extraordinary collection called Calling Blighty, in which Armed Forces personnel stationed in India and East Asia during the Second World War recorded messages to be sent back home. Here the Brighton Boys stationed in Burma are given around 10 seconds each to record their message. It’s one of curator Michelle Kirby’s favourites from the IWM’s archives, and one that particularly resonates with our situation during the Covid-19 global crisis, with many people turning to video calls to stay in touch. The film demonstrates the power of seeing and hearing someone, and, despite their 12 week wait between recording and screening, the Brighton Boys’ awkward messages feel remarkably relatable today.

"Here are the Brighton Boys from Burma with a few words. Hello dears, all my love to you, especially Nina. I'm okay but longing to see you all again."

Michelle Kirby: So you're about to meet the Brighton Boys. They are a group of British Army soldiers who served in Burma during the Second World War. The year is 1945 and the war is not quite over yet, so these individuals have been asked to step up to a camera and to speak from the heart; they're being asked to record personal messages homes their loved ones back in Britain.

"Cheerio now, all my love, keep smiling."

"Hello Mother! Hello Dad. Hope you're keeping both very fit, and that goes for the rest of the family out near Horsham too. As you can see, I'm pretty well and still got something to laugh at. Give my love to Vera, Peg, Kenneth and Pat and tons for yourself. Cheerio for now! God bless you all and keep smiling! Get cracking Ninja."

MK: The series as a whole was produced by the Directorate for Army Welfare in India and the purpose was really to raise morale. There was growing concern around this time that these troops that were thousands of miles from home were fast becoming the forgotten army and the idea was to try to improve communication with home. One of the things that I find really fascinating about the Brighton Boys film is you can feel that palpable sense of separation and yet there is this incredible spirit and camaraderie amongst them, the determination to get through it and be positive. Just count the number of times that they say 'keep smiling'.

"It won't be long now, cheerio all of you! Come on Mike!"

"Hello Mum and Dad, my only thing is to wish Eileen and John the best of luck and hoping to be back with you all again in England soon. All of us boys here are going to win the war and get back to you all a bit jolly So cheerio darling and keep smiling. Come on John!"

Once they were done filming the Brighton Boys would be asked by the welfare officer who out of your family and friends do you want us to write to, give us their addresses and we're going to invite them to a special screening at a cinema somewhere in the Brighton area and they were going to bring all of the family and friends of all of these boys together under one roof to hear these special personal messages. Sometimes it took as long as 12 weeks for those films to get from the point of filming the boys to actually up there on the cinema screen but it was well worth the wait. Can you imagine how emotionally charged those cinemas must have been, I mean some of these families wouldn't have seen the faces of their loved ones for potentially years. They must have been full of laughter and tears of joy, and sometimes also tears of great sadness, because we do know that across the Calling Blighty series there were some individual servicemen who were very sadly killed in action after being filmed.

"Take care of yourself, cheerio for now. Come on George!"

"Hello Hilda darling, hello champ I bet you never expected to see me as a film star but here I am. I'm feeling very fit and glad to know that you're both the same. Remember me to all at home. Of course I miss you both a terrible lot but until that day I can get back to you, keep that chin up and keep smiling
Give mum a kiss champ! Cheerio!"

For me, the Calling Blighty series and particularly the Brighton Boys films really show the power of film, the power of seeing someone and hearing someone. It's kind of interesting that we're in such an unusual global situation now and yet many of us are seeking comfort from video contact, from video calls with our loved ones, and it turns out that nearly a century ago the power of moving images was also used to bring together people who were divided.

"Come along Sam!"

"Hello Freda darling, here's proof that I'm safe and well and if our families are watching this, you want to tell them to get their money back because I'm not worth it. Look after yourself and keep smiling. I just wanted to give three cheers from the Boys from Brighton before we finish. Right boys, three cheers.
Hip hip, HOORAY! Hip hip, HOORAY! Hip hip, HOORAY!"

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