WAR PICTORIAL NEWS NO 161 (5/6/1944)

This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: WPN 161).


I. 'BURMA.' British Fourteenth Army M3 Stuart light tanks and soft-skinned vehicles drive along a jungle track during the fighting in defence of Imphal (Assam). British M3 Grant tanks drive along a jungle track. Aerial footage shows the harsh terrain in which the campaign is being fought with British/Indian soft-skinned vehicles negotiating twisting mountain roads. Grant tanks engage unseen Japanese positions using their 75mm cannon to fire high explosive rounds. Indian troops carry wounded on stretchers as Willys MB 4x4 Jeeps drive past towing ammunition limbers. Indian infantry armed with Lee-Enfield .303-in No.IV rifles and M1 Thompson .45-in sub-machine guns walk past Japanese dead. British M4 Sherman tanks (three piece noses) drive past the camera laden with infantry. The commentary outlines the Allied use of light aircraft to evacuate casualties from difficult terrain over footage of a United States Army Air Force (USAAF) Stinson L-5 Sentinel liaison and observation aircraft. Huts burn in a jungle encampment. Universal carriers of the XV Indian Corps (5th Indian Division ?) drive along a jungle road past a sign giving directions for Buthidaung, Maungdaw and Bawli (Arakan). Footage shows the damaged exterior of the mosque at Maungdaw which had been used by elements of the Japanese 55 Division as a strong point. British troops (Royal Marines ?) laden with personal kit and Lee-Enfield No.IV rifles file along a wooden jetty to waiting boats at an unidentified Burmese location.

II. 'NEWS FROM ENGLAND.' The leaders of British Commonwealth countries meet in London for the "Empire Conference" (first wartime Imperial conference) held in May 1944. Official cars stand parked outside 10 Downing Street in London. British Prime Minister Winston Spencer Churchill talks to Field Marshal Jan C Smuts (Prime Minister of South Africa) in the gardens of No.10 Downing Street. Winston Churchill, Field Marshal Smuts, W L MacKenzie King (Prime Minister of Canada), John J A Curtin (Prime Minister of Australia) and Peter Fraser (Prime Minister of New Zealand) are shown seated at a table at the start of the Imperial Conference. MacKenzie King talks to Peter Fraser and Clement R Attlee (British Deputy Prime Minister) in the gardens of No.10. British Admiral Andrew B Cunningham is shown in close-up. The commentary outlines the main points of a declaration signed by the five Empire leaders in which they reiterate their inflexible resolve to continue the war until the defeat of the enemy has been achieved and "the agony of mankind" has been ended.

III. 'ITALY.' A British military policeman directs Allied road traffic at a junction as heavily camouflaged M4 Sherman tanks drive past him. A British half-track (M9A1 International ?) mounting an air-cooled Browning .50-in heavy machine gun for anti-aircraft defence, tows an Ordnance QF 25-pounder gun along an Italian road, raising dust as it passes. The commentary states that the Allied assault on the Gustav Line and Rome has begun, as Indian Army Universal carriers drive past captured German infantry seated by the roadside. Universal carriers of the British 4th Infantry Division stand parked next to railway tracks as sappers repair damaged track sections. A British infantryman wearing crampons, mends the terminals on a telegraph pole. British soldiers load freshly baked bread and "Libbys Canned Meals" into the back of waiting soft-skinned vehicles. A United States (US) Staff Sergeant loads supply parachute packs in a tented enclosure which are later taken to an airfield in a 3/4 ton 4X4 Dodge weapons carrier (with winch). The supply packs are loaded onto the wing hardpoints of a United States Army Air Force (USAAF) North American P-51A Mustang fighter aircraft (Allison V-1710-81 engine). The commentary points out that the air-dropping of ammunition and food supplies is frequently the only way of reaching isolated pockets of troops in mountainous regions. A USAAF Mustang P-51A takes off from a runway made of perforated steel planking (PSP) and is later shown dropping supplies to New Zealand infantrymen who crawl across rubble to retrieve the supply packages. The 75mm cannon of an M4 Sherman tank fires at unseen targets, with internal turret views showing loading and firing sequences. The commentary states that the Allied attack on the Gustav Line has been "battering its way forward, contested every inch of the way by bitter German resistance." New Zealand infantry fight in the rubble of ruined buildings using Lee-Enfield .303-in Mk III rifles and a Bren .303-in light machine gun. German prisoners of war stand in a barbed wire enclosure, guarded by a US military policeman armed with a .30-in bolt-action rifle (US Springfield M1903 rifle ?). The commentary states that the Allied grip on the German 10th Army is ever tightening with the enemy being forced back on the last defence line before Rome itself.



The newsreel series War Pictorial News was compiled by the Cairo Office of the Ministry of Information with the intended audience of Allied troops and local audiences in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Footage was largely assembled from items used by newsreel companies in England but was provided with a new commentary, with versions being issued in English, French and Arabic as deemed appropriate. Like most editions in the series, No. 161 was edited by Charles Martin and the commentary was provided by Rex Keating. Most numbers featured three separate stories, divided into sections titled in both English and Arabic. Produced in June 1944, No. 161 covers ‘Burma’, ‘News From England’ and ‘Italy’. The first two sections cover matters relating to the colonies. The first section details the Japanese attack on Imphal and the beginnings of the Allied re-conquest of Burma; the second section depicts the Empire Conference, held in London in May 1944.

Ashley Jackson has described Burma as being a ‘low-priority British colony until it became one of the Empire’s major battlegrounds in the Second World War’ (Jackson, 2006, 386). The capture of Burma in January 1942 represented the furthest extent of the Japanese incursion into Britain’s South East Asia Empire and the principal territorial threat to the Indian sub-continent during the war. Burma was also the territory in which Japanese state-building achieved its greatest success; here they found sympathetic collaborators among the dominant Burman population. In August 1943, when the Japanese accorded Burma ‘independence’, the new leader Ba Maw declared that Burma was at war with the Allies.

Japanese troops advanced on India in March 1944, besieging Imphal and Kohima. Allied forces eventually proved triumphant in these battles, helping to launch a successful campaign to retake Burma. Here the Allied cause was helped by the fact that, having sampled the ‘mixed blessings’ of Japanese occupation and independent rule, many Burmese – including Aung San’s Anti-Fascist Organization – now offered their support (Jackson, 2006, 402). Nevertheless, following their triumph in the Burmese campaign, the British failed to establish a presence in the country. When Burma left the Empire in 1948 the reorganisation of the country was determined by the Thakin movement, a political party that had challenged British rule in the 1930s and who had originally supported the Japanese during their occupation. Unlike many former colonies this new ‘Union of Burma’ did not choose to become a member of the Commonwealth.

The Empire Conference, meanwhile, was a platform for those countries that had already achieved ‘Commonwealth’ status. The benefits of being a member of the Commonwealth were outlined in the Balfour Declaration of 1926. Here Great Britain and the Dominions were defined as ‘autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any respect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations’ (‘Imperial Conference’, 1926). The Empire Conference represented the first wartime gathering of the Prime Ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Britain. Along with the Secretary of State for the Dominions, these representatives constituted the ‘chief members’ of the council (The Times,1 May 1944, 4). The conference began as a ‘council of war’, and topics under discussion included ‘armistice terms, reconstruction, and the endeavour to set up after the war a wider organization of security, based on power and common precaution against aggression’ (The Times, 1 May 1944).



The first two sections of War Pictorial News 161 display different aspects of World War II and different attitudes towards colonial matters. There is a stark contrast between the battle footage of the Burmese section and the report on the Empire Conference.

Although the first section of the news report is concerned with a battle to safeguard one Empire territory and to re-conquer another, it is not couched in these terms. Throughout the emphasis is on the fight against the Japanese. Some of this bias is due to the nature of the film itself: it comprises genuine battle footage, including graphic images of Japanese corpses among the jungle terrain. There are no establishing shots outlining the geographical location of these military manoeuvres, nor is there an attempt to construct a larger narrative by filming local people. The Burmese are absent from the film. Their country is instead represented by a signpost, which gives the directions to Buthidaung and Maungdaw, and by the bombed exterior of a temple in the latter town. The supplementary commentary narrows the focus further still. Although the footage depicts British, Indian and American troops, they are always referred to collectively as ‘the Allies’. No direct mention is made of India or Burma. Meanwhile, we hear repeatedly of ‘the Japs’, ‘the Japanese’ and the ‘little men of Nippon’. 

The Empire Conference section is different in several ways. Here the War is an abstract concept to be negotiated, and members of the Empire are here given a face and a name. As the camera pans across them we receive the roll call of ‘Field Marshal Smuts, MacKenzie King of Canada, Winston Churchill, John Curtin of Australia, and Peter Fraser of New Zealand’. In contrast to the rough camerawork of the Burma campaign, here is a film that exploits photo opportunities.The Empire itself is reduced to these five leaders who are grouped together in Number 10 Downing Street; they pose for the cameras around a meeting table and then on a bench in the garden. Although present at some of the sessions, the Maharaja of Kashmir and Sir Firoz-khan Noon, representatives of India at the War Cabinet, and Sir Godfrey Huggins, the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, are not depicted in the news report.

This section does share one feature with the earlier report: a focus on collectively attacking the enemy. This short news item concludes with a declaration made by the conference’s core quintet: ‘we affirm our inflexible and unwearing resolve, to continue in the general war with the utmost of our strength, until the defeat and downfall of our cruel and barbarous foes has been accomplished. We shall hold back nothing to reach the goal and bring to the speediest end, the agony of mankind’.

Richard Osborne (May 2009)


Works Cited

‘Empire Conference To-day’, The Times (1 May 1944), 4.

‘Imperial Conference’ (1926), http://www.foundingdocs.gov.au/resources/transcripts/cth11_doc_1926.pdf.

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



  • WAR PICTORIAL NEWS NO 161 (5/6/1944)

Technical Data

Running Time:
8 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
781 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Ministry of Information, Middle East
Keating, Rex
film editor
Martin, Charles
Production company
War Pictorial News