Chisman (Keal) Collection: 15. Waziristan (2) 1937

This film is held by the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum (ID: 2006/005/015).


India, North-West Frontier, 1937. Film shows various military scenes, including numerous scenes of the RAF in action, bombing, shooting and dropping leaflets in Waziristan. Also includes scenes of Indian Army in the field, Waziristan.

Production / Donor Details: Collection of films shot by Air Commodore Leonard de Ville Chisman DFC CBE (1899-1974) between 1930s and 1950s. Locations include India, Burma, Hong Kong and Malaya.



An experienced and senior airman with a long record of service, Air Commodore Leonard de Ville Chisman’s military career began in 1917, when he joined the Royal Naval Air Service. During the First World War he saw action in the Mediterranean theatre, serving in Malta, Alexandria and Taranto; in 1919 he was mentioned in despatches for distinguished service, and was subsequently decorated with two Italian medals, the Croce di Guerra and the Libyan medal. In 1922 he became an RAF armament specialist, before being transferred to India where he commanded Army Co-operation Squadrons in Peshawar and on the North-West Frontier. He was later decorated with a DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross), awarded for gallantry during operations in Waziristan during the period 17 January – 15 September 1937 (BECM, accession files). Reels 14 and 15 of the Chisman collection date to this year, and both are composed of footage taken in Waziristan, in India’s North-West Frontier Province  (NWFP).

The years 1936-37 in the NWFP saw the Indian Army engaged in a serious asymmetrical conflict against forces lead by a figure who has been described as ‘the most determined, implacable enemy the British Raj had to face amongst its own subjects’ (Hauner, 1981, 183) – Mirza Ali Khan, better known as the Faqir of Ipi. It is estimated that at its height the conflict against the lashkars (war parties) raised by the Faqir engaged around 40,000 Indian Army soldiers; despite this huge number of troops, the revolt was never quelled, and rumbled on through the war years up to Partition in 1947. The Faqir, who was reputed to have magical powers, was never captured or killed, and on reports of his death in 1960 the Times described him as a ‘doughty and honourable opponent’ (even going so far as to say he was ‘a man of saintliness and principle’. The Times April 20, 1960, 15).

Born in 1901, the Faqir belonged to one of the extended clans of the Tori Khel Wazirs of Northern Waziristan. He had a religious schooling in both British India and Afghanistan, and completed Hajj to Mecca in 1923. Thereafter he returned to Waziristan and settled amongst the Daurs of the Tochi valley in a small village called Ipi where, according to Hauner, ‘he gradually acquired [a] reputation for saintliness’ (Hauner, op. cit., 189).

The 1936 conflict ostensibly began with the case of the ‘Islam Bibi’ – a Hindu girl of fifteen, Ram Kori, who had married a Daur Pathan schoolteacher and converted to Islam. However, a case of abduction was brought by the girl’s parents, and the case reached Bannu court, which found the husband guilty. In the local district and beyond,  the case was seen as an affront both to tribal legal process and also to Islam, and it greatly exercised tribal opinion. The Faqir became involved and a Daur lashkar was raised; with serious trouble apparently in the offing, two British columns were despatched on a punitive expedition to Tochi.

Following the traditional policing policy, the expedition imposed fines and destroyed the property of any known ringleaders, including a house belonging to the Faqir. Under pressure, the lashkarwas eventually dissolved, and the Daurs heavily fined for their trouble. The Faqir, his incipient revolt defeated by events, left the area to live among the Tori Khel to the south. It seems he spent the summer of 1936 attempting to organise a united tribal front against the Government with the intent of launching a jihad to drive the British entirely out of Waziristan, and the ‘Islam Bibi’ case was an opportune religious rallying point (this at least was the view of the British Resident; see ibid., 96). However, while this was evidently an ideologically effective pretext, Warren’s history of the revolt makes it quite clear that the underlying reasons for the willingness of the Tori Khel and other groups to join with the Faqir had at least as much to do with the high-handed British penetration of the Khaisora valley as it did with his own charismatic leadership. Hauner also draws attention to the numerous other reasons for discontent in the NWFP generally (Warren, 2000; Hauner op.cit., 190)

The revolt started in earnest in November 1936, when a provocative expedition by two British columns entered Khaisora with several aims in mind. The expedition was in the first instance determined to exercise British rights to free military movement under a 1935 agreement, and make a symbolic show of force to the Tori Khel for their growing recalcitrance on this matter; it was also presumed that the presence of troops would pressure them into expelling the Faqir, as they had been warned to control his activities or be held responsible for them. It was, according to the official history of the 1936-37 campaigns, ‘purely a peaceful demonstration’ (Govt of India, 1943, 7).

However, the columns came under unexpectedly heavy attack by forces largely marshalled by the Faqir, and from here the revolt deepened and spread through late 1936 and into 1937, with growing raids by tribal forces into government areas. These drew the inevitable punitive responses by the British, who soon found themselves drawn into a complex, poorly defined conflict in very difficult terrain, against a fluid, motivated and well-armed enemy. The Faqir, meanwhile, remained elusive and at large; his reputation as a holy warrior with miraculous powers spread widely, and he moved from hideout to hideout, slipping into Afghanistan when necessary, always a step ahead of the British. 



The war against the Faqir of Ipi was fought using tried and tested tactics that had been developed along the frontiers of empire over a long period of time, principally the use of protected columns to penetrate enemy territory and exact punishment, and the opening and protection of roads to facilitate fast and effective movement of troops along the stretched combat zones typical of frontiers everywhere. The Faqir’s lashkars, some made up of as many as 4000 fighting men, rarely engaged in open battle against the superior armaments of the British, preferring to fight a guerrilla campaign from the fastness of the mountains; when they did break cover en masse they inevitably came off worse, though this was rare, and their war was waged through pin-point accurate sniping, sudden raiding, the harassing of columns and piquets, and close-quarters ambushes (see Moreman, 1998, 163-72 for a detailed account of the 1936-7 campaign; see also Ryan 1983).

Despite the continuing emphasis on infantry columns in frontier warfare, this was a fully mechanized campaign where the terrain allowed, deploying armoured cars, tanks, gas and automatic weapons. Extensive use of aircraft was also made from the very start of the campaign, and it is this aspect of the conflict which is so dramatically and intimately captured by Chisman’s extraordinary footage.

The official record of NWFP operations during 1936-7 – a thick volume, its size indicating the scale and seriousness of the conflict – contains full details about the manner in which aircraft were employed. The flag marches of November that sparked the revolt were accompanied by aircraft reconnaissance, and the record notes that ‘air reconnaissance requirements were met by one flight of No. 5 (Army Co-operation) Squadron’ (Govt of India, op.cit., 15), and the RAF also provided close cover for troops, and this pattern – reconnaissance with close support against the enemy – was repeated throughout the operations.

Reels 14 and 15 of the Chisman collection record precisely these kinds of encounters and air operations, with footage of bombing raids and the dropping of supplies to forward positions by parachute taken from within flying aircraft. Aircraft were also used to disseminate information and warnings about future punitive action (again, this was a tried and tested method, typical of colonial air policing; see Omissi, 1990, 154-5). On 27 August 1937, for instance, ‘notices were dropped over the Shawal area warning the inhabitants that until the Faqir submitted to Government, any tribe sheltering him would be liable for punishment’ (Govt. of India, op.cit., 179), and reel 15 contains a sequence showing a pilot unfurling a large leaflet, with text in Pashto and Urdu. The following sequences show air-drops of these leaflets over hill country. There are also scenes showing armoured cars and tanks on the move, and a sequence apparently shot during a battle, with a line of artillery opening fire on hill positions. 

The Faqir’s uprising was arguably the most serious colonial insurgency of the inter-war imperial period, and the films are remarkable in that they record scenes of action from a poorly remembered but major guerrilla conflict. Beyond this historical importance they have another significance, for they offer scenes of something only very rarely captured on film, despite its regular occurrence throughout the Empire – the recourse to the punitive deployment of heavy weaponry against subject peoples in revolt.

Francis Gooding (May 2010)


Works Cited

Omissi, David E. Air Power and Colonial Control: The Royal Air Force 1919-1939 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990)

Warren, Alan Waziristan, The Faqir of Ipi, and the Indian Army: The North-West Frontier Revolt of 1936-37 (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2000)

Government of India Official History of Operations on the N. W. Frontier 1936-7 (Delhi: Government of India, 1943)

Moreman, T. R. The Army in India and the Development of Frontier Warfare, 1849-1947 (London: Macmillan, 1998) 

‘Faqir of Ipi: Revolt on the N. W. Frontier’ The Times April 20, 1960: 15



  • Chisman (Keal) Collection: 15. Waziristan (2) 1937 (Archive)
Series Title:
Chisman (Keal) Collection

Technical Data

Running Time:
14 min 21 sec.
Film Gauge (Format):

Production Credits

Production Details
See synopsis