This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: JFU 410).


Footage showing the feeding of the poor as part of the Buddhist Festival of Lights in Rangoon, shortly after the resumption of British civil administration in Burma.

At Turtle Tank Park in Rangoon civilians mount a stage set with low tables and food. Medium and close shots of people, including children and infants, eating from bowls. A line of people are issued with something (cheroots?). A crowd clamours for flags which serve as meal tickets. More flags are given out. Two men with plates and people eating and queuing in the background. A female dancer performs a pwe or traditional dance. Closer shot of the dancer. Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, recently returned Governor of Burma, arrives in China Street, Rangoon, and is greeted (by leaders of the Chinese community?). Good shots of a Chinese dragon dance.


The Buddhist Festival of Lights, or Thadingyut, marks the end of a three-month period of Vassa, sometimes referred to as the 'Rains Retreat' or 'the Buddhist Lent'.

For further coverage, see related items.



Reginald Dorman-Smith became Governor of Burma on 6 May 1941. He enjoyed his initial period in office and had admiration for the Burmese politicians he worked with (Taylor, 2004, 431). The Governor was in favour of self-government at a future date and under his administration Burmese politicians were given powers in all areas except defence, foreign affairs, finance, and control of the frontier areas (Taylor, 2004, 431)

In 1942 Japanese forces invaded Burma and forced the British to retreat from the country. Dorman-Smith’s administration operated in exile from Simla, India. It would be May 1945 before Rangoon, Burma’s largest city, was recaptured by Allied forces. Burma had faced the longest single military campaign of World War II. The military administration that took temporary control of the country reported that ‘We do not think it any exaggeration to say that no British possession has suffered so much damage’ (quoted in Collis, 1956, 253). Dorman-Smith argued that it would take a period of British rule, lasting between five and seven years, in order to rebuild the country (Ward Fay, 363-64)

In the wake of the liberation of Rangoon the British government issued a White Paper, which promised Burma a ‘status equal to that of the Dominions’ (quoted in Comstock, 1946, 239). This goal was laid out in stages. The British Governor’s period of direct rule was to last for three years; and then representatives of all parties would be asked to draw up a democratic constitution, which would need to be ratified by the British government. These measures were unsatisfactory to Burmese nationalists, who demanded greater clarity regarding the proposals in the White Paper and an earlier date for independence.

Dorman-Smith first returned to Rangoon on 16 October 1945, two days before the rushes that comprise this film were shot. He was accompanied by his wife who, on viewing the city, judged it to be ‘a shambles’ (quoted in Collis, 1956, 254). The Governor was welcomed by moderate Burmese officials, but Aung San, the influential leader of the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL), declined to meet him. Although Dorman-Smith had intimated that independence could be achieved at an earlier date than proposed in the White Paper, the AFPFL denounced his plans. They demanded control of the Governor’s council and an immediate guarantee of self-government (Thomson, 1957, 300). When Dorman-Smith refused these demands he was labelled a fascist.

Dorman-Smith’s council and the AFPFL entered a period of stalemate, and the Governor eventually saw the need for his own replacement (Collis, 1956, 278). In August 1946 he was succeeded by Hubert Rance, who governed Burma until its date of independence, 4 January 1948. During this period Aung San was assassinated by political rivals. The Independent Union of Burma chose not to become a member of the British Commonwealth.

Dorman-Smith was in favour of documenting Burmese life. During the war he had visited London and pleaded the Burmese cause. According to Maurice Collis he had proposed the making of documentary films, arguing that they ‘might make the Burmese more real in the public mind’ (Collis, 1956, 211). It was the governor’s belief that ‘If people saw how charming and human they were, sympathy would be aroused and their problems better understood’ (ibid.). The rushes that comprise this film were shot by Sgt. Wilson of the South East Asia Command (SEAC) film unit. His film covers two combined events. The first is what the Burmese termed the feeding of ‘all comers from the 4 corners’: the distribution of food to the poor, irrespective of creed, caste or religion. The second is the Burmese/Chinese festival of lights, the three-day festival that marks the anniversary of the return of Buddha from the celestial abode.



The rushes that comprise Sgt. Wilson’s brief film show some of the diversity of Burmese life in the aftermath of the British recapture of Rangoon. They capture the distribution of food to the poor, the traditional dances of Burmese and Chinese residents, and the formalities that were accorded to British officialdom.

It is evident that there were many poor who were in need of food. The distribution takes place in various places, including one of Rangoon’s parks, where we witness food being given to men, women and children alike. This task is being carried out by the Burmese themselves. They serve the food and they also operate a ticketing system. The footage depicting the latter is curious. Here a solitary Burmese man hands out flags that entitle the poor to their free food. He is soon surrounded by a frantic group, who quickly lose patience, and in the end snatch the flags from him. He appears to be quite genial about this. In addition, a merrily laughing crowd has witnessed this spectacle. In this throng there are both locals and allied soldiers.

It is also curious that this distribution of food is combined with celebration. Taking place in the same park is a traditional Burmese Pwe dance, performed for the festival of lights. Here a young girl in traditional Burmese costume uses a fan as she dances on stage for a large crowd of male onlookers.

The final ingredient added to this mix is the presence of Governor of Burma and his wife. They performed various formal duties following their return to Rangoon (Collis, 1956, 254-55), and in these rushes they can be seen attending the festival of lights in the Chinese district of Rangoon. What Sgt. Wilson describes as a ‘brief visit’ begins with them disembarking from their large car and being warmly greeted by Chinese dignitaries, the majority of whom are dressed in western suits and ties. They are then placed as guests of honour for a dragon dance. Here the Buddhist festival is presented directly to the British party. The Governor and his wife are seated in front of the dancers; meanwhile a large Burmese/Chinese crowd looks on from a less advantageous position.

The Dorman-Smiths are also prioritised in the rushes shot by the SEAC film unit. A separate film (JFU 408), shot by Capt. Lawson, also captures this dragon dance. Lawson’s notes state that ‘Sgt. Wilson covered this story from the front’. Meanwhile further rushes shot by Wilson on the same day (JFU 411) show the Governor and his wife attending a ceremony that combines festival dancing with the feeding of the poor. Also from the same day Sgt. E.E. Miller filmed their party attending the Kyaikasan Races in Rangoon (JFU 409). Each of these films captures the reception given to the Governor and his wife by the officials and the people of Rangoon. What is missing is any film record of the reactions of those who did not wish to greet the returning Dorman-Smiths.

Richard Osborne (September 2009)


Works Cited

Collis, Maurice, Last and First in Burma (1941-1948) (London: Faber and Faber, 1956).

Comstock, Alzada, ‘British Plans for the Empire’, Current History, 10/55 (March 1946), 238-43.

Taylor, R. H. ‘Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith’, in Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor, ed. by Keat Gin Ooi (Oxford: ABC-CLIO, 2004), 431.

Thomson, John Seabury, ‘The AFPFL-Continuity in Burmese Politics’, Antioch Review, 17/3 (September 1957), 297-313.



  • FEEDING OF THE POOR IN RANGOON (18/10/1945) (Allocated)
Series Title:

Technical Data

Running Time:
4 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
284 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
War Office Directorate of Public Relations
Wilson, A (Sergeant)
Production company
SEAC Film Unit