This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: BAY 232-1).


Burma, 30 January 1942. American Volunteer Group (AVG), Two Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk fighter aircraft warming up for take-off on a dusty airstrip. Panning shot across airstrip. Tomahawk aircraft taking off. Another Tomahawk aircraft taxiing to take-off, partially obscured by dust. Brief long shots of aircraft in the sky. Brief shot of an American Volunteer Group (AVG) jeep driving across the airstrip. Brief shot of petrol bowser driving across the airstrip. Long shot of Tomahawk aircraft in the sky. Long shot over airstrip following Japanese (?) aircraft in the sky. Long shot of the Japanese (?) aircraft doing a "loop" and crashing behind a some low buildings and trees on the edge of the airstrip. Brief out of focus scenes of a man with the "thumbs-up" sign to the camera. Long shot of the Japanese (?) aircraft flying over the airstrip. Shots of the debris of a crashed Japanese aircraft being looked over by RAF personnel. Close-ups of the wreckage, various views.

Rangoon, Burma 28 January 1942. Shots along a deserted wide suburban streets. Travelling shot along another deserted wide suburban street. Close-ups of several posters on a wall: "Rangoon must not burn. Join the AFS", " Don't desert your homes but protect and guard them. Join the Civil Defence Service", "There is room for every man and every woman in the Civil Defence Service. Join up at once", "Have you dug trenches? Do it now. Have you got water? Have you got sand? Get them now." Burmese men working on the construction of a brick air raid shelter in a suburban street. View along a tree lined road towards a pagoda. Various shots of the pagoda. View of an ornate Buddha seated under a canopy. View of a simpler stone Buddha in the open-air. View of a small street market. Shots of the individual street vendors and their produce including vegetables and live ducks. Shots of children. Several views of roadside barbers at work. Portrait shots of several Burmese men. Group of men and boys smiling and clapping for the camera. Burmese men at work clearing debris from a bomb damaged area of Rangoon. Panning shot over the damaged area, mostly showing charred trees and sheets of corrugated iron. Close-up of men piling bucked and damaged sheets of corrugated iron on a Corporation of Rangoon lorry. Shot of the lorry driving away. Burmese man standing under the shade of his open umbrella, possibly overseeing the workmen. View of a large bomb damaged building. View of a pagoda, several views including an atmospheric, part shadowed, shot of a single Burmese man at prayer. Close-up of the praying man. View of the shaded courtyard. Panning shot over the numerous spires including several covered with wooden scaffolding (possibly air-raid damage).

Mute, unedited footage shot by British Paramount News cameraman Maurice Ford in Burma


Above stories relate to Maurice Ford's shipment numbers 107 and 106

The cameraman's original Dope Sheet notes that the he "ran in front of the camera to clarify the position" - probably the unidentified man making the "thumbs-up" sign.

For the British Paramount newsreel including footage shot by Maurice Ford in Burma, 1942, see issue no 1173, IWM film ref NPA 1173.



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’; he adds that ‘No one […] expected Burma to be anywhere near the fighting until it was too late to do anything about it’ (Jackson, 2006, 386, 387). In 1940 the country had come under the military control of Britain’s Far East Command, which was headquartered in Singapore. In the early stages of World War II British military personnel believed that the Japanese had little interest in Singapore; instead, it was felt that their pre-occupation would be the battle against China (Turnbull, 1988, 163). The first Japanese air attack on Singapore took place on 8 December 1941, corresponding with strikes against Pearl Harbour, Hong Kong and the Philippines. Within 70 days Britain had surrendered the port.

Jackson argues that Burma ‘never had much of a chance’ once Singapore had fallen (Jackson, 2006, 387). It was poorly equipped with both supplies and men; prior to 1941 its defence had ranked lower in priority than that of the West Indies (Jackson, 2006, 387). The Japanese 15th Army entered the Tenasserim region of Burma in December 1942, taking control of its airfields. In January 1942 the port of Rangoon was brought to a standstill: over two thousand civilians were killed in air raids and 100,000 fled the city (Jackson, 2006, 393). The British rushed troops to defend the city, which was first reached by Japanese soldiers on 8 February 1942. Rangoon fell to the Japanese on 8 March 1942, effectively closing Burma to the outside world (Jackson, 2006, 393). There then began the withdrawal of Allied forces towards India. This, the longest retreat in British military history, was followed by the longest campaign of World War II. Allied forces did not re-enter Rangoon until April 1945. During the occupation, elements among the dominant Burman ethnic group sided with the Japanese (Allen, 1984, 12-13). Burma had had a burgeoning nationalist movement prior to the War, and following independence in 1948 the country chose not to become a member of the British Commonwealth. 

Maurice Ford shot the footage for Air Force and Japs Downed and Scenes in Bomb Damaged Rangoon in January 1942, for possible inclusion in the newsreels of British Paramount News. Ford first entered the film industry in 1927 as a camera assistant for British Instructional Pictures. Thereafter he worked for various companies before being employed by British Paramount News in 1936 (‘Maurice Ford’). He was one of the company’s first War correspondents, covering the early campaign in France as well as making a noted film of the inferno surrounding St Paul’s Cathedral during the Blitz. He was later posted to South Africa and then to Burma, where he supplied both the film and the story for Burma: A War Correspondent’s Despatch (1942), which was credited as being the ‘longest newsreel ever issued by British Paramount’ (‘Maurice Ford’). The company would soon bill him as ‘Paramount’s ace war correspondent’ (‘Maurice Ford’).

British Paramount, a subsidiary of the US Paramount Company, was founded in 1931 and was one of the five main British newsreel companies operating during World War II. Luke McKernan states that it was during this period that the newsreels ‘found their voice’, serving as ‘an important means of communicating vital news mixed with propagandist uplift’ (McKernan). McKernan and Nicholas Hiley have also argued that the newsreels could not function without ‘faking’ their stories (Hiley and McKernan, 2001, 192). Studying the surviving documentation of British Paramount News Hiley and McKernan discovered that the editors would plan stories in advance, and that the cameramen would often be expected to illustrate previously written commentaries (Hiley and McKernan, 2001, 192). They note correspondence from Maurice Ford to news editor Fred Partington in March 1944, stating that he had obtained ‘scenes as requested per script’ (Hiley and McKernan, 2001, 192). Nevertheless, in this footage, as with Burma: A War Correspondent’s Despatch, it appears to be Ford who was shaping the story. His dope sheets indicate that he was filming with his own objectives in mind.



Air Force and Japs Downed was filmed on 30 January 1942, and it shows aerial combat between the British and the Japanese, as well as its aftermath. Scenes in Bomb Damaged Rangoon was filmed on 28 January 1942; it shows Burmese life in and around bomb-damaged Burma. Both films feature some dramatic and graphic footage. The first includes a shot of a Japanese plane attempting a loop-the-loop, but diving straight into the ground. The second captures the widespread destruction in Rangoon, including locals searching the debris for what Ford refers to as ‘some poor soul’. What is notable about both films, however, is that there is no intimation that the Allied forces will soon be defeated.

In Air Force and Japs Downed Ford films a number of successful attacks upon Japanese aircraft. He refers to the destroyed planes as being ‘all that is left of the Japaneze [sic] tourists’. Ford desired that his film would show the ‘the brass hats’ in England what a good job the RAF were doing. His dope sheets feature suggestions on how to use his footage to show both the readiness of the British forces and the destruction of the Japanese. He is not averse to the idea of ‘faking’ his material, suggesting ways in which it can be edited to tell a coherent story. In addition, he admits that it has been ‘impossible to log this stuff on the location’, but is confident that his employers will be able to ‘sort it out successfully’.

In Scenes in Bomb Damaged RangoonFord’s selection of material, and his instructions regarding how it should be used, suggest that the Allied troops and the Burmese people will withstand the attack upon Rangoon. Although Ford is telling a deliberate story here, this was a cause in which he evidently believed. He was fiercely partisan – he would later claim that he wished to see every ‘god damned’ surrendering German shot (‘Maurice Ford’). In the dope sheets he describes the Japanese as being ‘weird little men’, whereas the Burmese are ‘innocent peace-loving souls’. He continues, ‘Thank you London, for giving these people spiritual courage to carry on, wherever I go I hear words of praise to my homeland from these people’. To this end Ford suggests that his footage be compiled so that it shows the Burmese ‘happy and carrying on to the best advantage’. His desire is to show life in Rangoon taking place as normal, whether this be the people of the suburbs shopping ‘in between air raids’ (here he includes footage of vendors selling live birds and a line of street-side barbers) or a Buddhist at prayer in the local pagoda (filmed in the sunlight that falls through a door – a beautiful image that reinforces the idea of serenity).

Ford’s dope sheets reveal that the footage of the pagodas could have taken on a more dispiriting tone. He notes that several of them had been burnt and wrecked, while others provide ‘excellent landmarks to the enemy planes’. Ford does not indicate how he wished his shots of signs posted in the streets to be used. They nevertheless demonstrate the fact that Burma was neither entirely happy nor carrying on as usual. One of them reads ‘Don’t desert your homes but protect and guard them’.

Richard Osborne (June 2010)


Works Cited

Allen, Louis, Burma: The Longest War 1941-5 (London and Melbourne: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1984).

Hiley, Nicholas and Luke McKernan, ‘Reconstructing the News: British Newsreel Documentation and the British Universities Newsreel Project’, Film History, 13/2 (2001), 185-99.

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

‘Maurice Ford’, British Universities Film and & Video Council,

McKernan, Luke, ‘Newsreels’, Screenonline,

Turnbull, C.M., A History of Singapore 1819-1988, 2nd edn (Singapore: OUP, 1989).




Technical Data

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

Production Credits

Ford, Maurice
Production company
British Paramount News