This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: JFU 113).


In the jungle around the town of Tamandu, Burma, a field hospital has been set up to look after casualties from 82nd West African Division wounded in action against the Japanese.

Two shirtless West African soldiers, one wearing shorts and the other trousers, carry a stretcher case down a rough road. They walk past a sign which reads "77 MDS" (Main Dressing Station) with a red cross on it. Two soldiers carry a stretcher into the camp and are supervised by another soldier; the soldier at the front carries the stretcher on his head. The men bring the stretcher into the reception area. Close-up of the African soldier on the stretcher; his medical card lies next to his face. Captain J F A Fenton takes the medical card of a patient on a stretcher. The feet of the patient stick out from the bottom of the blanket. Captain Fenton examines the patient and removes a dressing from his stomach. The patient is taken by stretcher into a basha (hut). A sign reads "Operating Theatre". The patient is given an anaesthetic by dripping a chemical (probably chloroform or ether) onto a gauze mask held over his mouth and nose. The face of the patient appears to have ceremonial scarring on it. The operation is carried out; clamps are put in place and the gloved hands of the surgeon go to work. A shirtless African orderly walks past the MDS sign. A basha (hut) with the sign "Ward Observation". Plasma and penicillin are given to patients (filming conditions are very dark). A wound is dressed. Patient with a drip. Patient carried out of the ward, on a stretcher, to an ambulance. The patient is loaded onto an ambulance. Patient is carried out of the ambulance and onto a hospital ship. The ship is a two-tiered medium-sized river craft.


According to the dopesheet Captain J F A Fenton is from 67, Creffield Road, West Acton, London, W3.

The background narrative on the dopesheet states 'The Field Hospitals that are built in the Jungle consist mostly of Bamboo stakes covered with leaves etc. Under such conditions with none of the facilities used in Modern Hospitals the RAMC Officers have performed some of the most difficult operations. Battle Casualties in the Jungle have to be carried long distances on stretchers and the West African bearers prefer to carry the stretchers on their heads'.



This footage of West African troops receiving treatment at a field hospital near Tamandu is best viewed as a continuation of footage featured in JFU 114 (‘Evacuation of West African Casualties from Letmauk by Air and Road’), which was filmed on the same day approximately ten miles away near Letmauk. In the dope sheet for JFU 114, the cameraman Sergeant T.V. Brown outlined the situation that led to the arrival of these casualties at Tamandu.

Brown reported that in the jungle to the north east of Letmauk, two Brigades of the 82 West African Division had become ‘completely cut off from the rest of the division for two weeks’. After suffering ‘considerable casualties’ during this period, the two brigades linked up again with the Division, which was holding the village of Letmauk, on 25 March. On the following day, when these films were shot, the most serious of the 240 wounded Africans were flown to Akyab and Kyaukpyu. ‘The remainder were’, the dope sheet explained, ‘evacuated by jeep ambulances to Tamandu where they were transferred to a hospital ship’. These two films, while filmed in different locations by separate cameramen, thus illustrate the full journey and scale of this military operation (‘Dope Sheet for JFU 114’).

Mark Harrison, in his work on British military medicine during the War, emphasised the mobility of the medical units within Burma. In order to avoid bringing in general hospitals and moving large medical equipment across the region, it was decided to ‘evacuate all serious cases by air, and to carry CCSs [Casualty Clearing Stations] and MFTUs [Malaria Forward Treatment Units] as the only hospital units with the army’. ‘Flexibility was the order of the day’, Harrison suggested, ‘with medical centres being continually reconstituted’ (Harrison, 2004, 223). A reliance on air support was integral to this system, and was widely noted in contemporary reports. For example, The Times wrote in April 1945 that ‘air transport in Burma has been the means of saving the lives of many soldiers who would probably have died before they could reach hospital by surface transport’ (The Times, 27 April 27 1945, 5). What may have previously been a week-long journey, the paper suggested, could now be achieved in a couple of hours. Harrison further argued that the Allies’ superior medical arrangements and transport ensured that ‘the vast majority of Allied casualties recovered and were returned to duty quickly thanks to forward treatment, but the Japanese, whose medical services had fallen into disarray, died from “lack of medical care, exposure and exhaustion”’ (Harrison, 2004, 221).

Many reports from the period also suggested that the African troops were inherently healthier within the jungle conditions and less susceptible to malaria and disease. Lieutenant-General Sir William Slim decided that the first troops to enter the Kabaw Valley should be the East African Division, ‘because he assumed they were more resistant to malaria than either Indian or British troops’ (Harrison, 2004, 221). Newspapers endorsed this argument. For example, The Times argued that the ‘West Africans have an instinct for it [jungle warfare] that can never be learned, and they should be far less prone to malaria than British or Indian troops, or indeed the Japanese themselves’ (The Times, 14 January 1944, 3). Yet, other reports emphasised the medical attention and welfare work provided for the African troops. In a study published in African Affairs in 1945, E. E. Sabben-Clare commented on ‘the fine work done by those who helped to keep the African soldier well’. Their health ‘cannot simply be put down to comparative African malarial immunity. It is’, he argued, ‘also due largely to the work of medical welfare and sanitary staff and, indeed of all those who helped to see that the African soldier was better fed and cared for than ever before’ (African Affairs, October 1945, 154- 155). 



While some of the footage of medical treatment filmed in Burma was not intended for public exhibition – for example the amputation footage in JFU 36 was for ‘exhibition to medical services only’ – this item was filmed, and cut in camera, with a linear narrative and, along with the footage in JFU 114, was seemingly intended for newsreel exhibition. It is unclear whether this was ultimately included within a newsreel, but the emphasis on African troops, the camerawork and the messages the film appears to endorse, all suggest that this may have been intended primarily for African audiences.

The cameraman develops a narrative based initially on the journey of this stretcher and the treatment of the African patient it carries. During one sequence, the footage is shot almost entirely from the level of the patient who is being treated. While the camera does pan up to show the European doctor reading the patient’s notes, the face of the doctor is not seen here. A further sequence does show a European doctor operating on the patient, although much of this is shown in medium close-ups, showing parts of the body, which has the effect of positioning the viewer within the action, rather than presenting a clearly framed overview.

The footage itself serves two main purposes. First, it emphasises the British welfare, sanitation and medical care offered to African troops during the war. In showing this, it highlights the British support for the African troops and endorses the argument outlined in African Affairs, that the Africans were not naturally healthier in this climate, but rather benefited from the British medical treatment on offer. The footage promotes an image of imperial co-operation and support. The patient is carried by African men – on their heads as the cameraman pointed out – before another African worker hands the details of the injured patient to a European doctor. The European doctor is then assisted by an African man during the treatment of the patient.

Secondly, the footage emphasises the efficiency of, and modern transportation within, the British medical operations. This is even more apparent when viewed alongside the footage in JFU 114, which contains a series of shots of planes, which are loaded with stretchers, before taking off. This serves again to highlight British modernity in treating and transporting troops throughout the Empire.

Tom Rice (February 2009)


Works Cited

Harrison, Mark, Medicine and Victory: British Military Medicine in the Second World War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

E. E. Sabben-Clare, ‘African Troops in Asia’, African Affairs, Volume 44, Number 177 (October 1945), 151-157.

‘Supplies Into Burma Warfare Transformed By Air Transport’, The Times, 27 April 27 1945, 5.

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

Dope Sheets for JFU 113 and 114 accessed at the Imperial War Museum. 



Series Title:

Technical Data

Running Time:
5 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
444 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
War Office Directorate of Public Relations
Production company
SEAC Film Unit
Sergeant; cameraman.
MacTavish, Duncan