This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: JIN 3).


On Ramree Island off the Arakan coast of Burma, local civilians welcome British troops, who go sightseeing with a local headman before a Union flag is raised.

A jeep, with two British soldiers (probably military policemen (MPs)) in the front seats and a local headman in the back, approaches camera and parks near a small crowd of civilians. The civilians are clapping and waving. The locals examine the jeep. A civilian woman smokes a cigarette, presumably given to her by the soldiers. Local children. One of the MPs, a sergeant in a peaked cap, shows his (unloaded) Sten submachine gun to a local man who operates the bolt several times. Children garland the jeep with flowers. Civilians decorating the grille of the jeep. The two MPs sit in their jeep which is now full of young children. A young boy sits in the lap of a British Military Police sergeant (in beret) and plays with the steering wheel. A toddler wears the other MP's peaked cap. A large group of civilians, apparently the headmen of local villages, standing and squatting to hear an address (according to the dopesheet, they were given instructions 'and assured of the safety of their properties'). Two (British?) soldiers sitting on the ground. Group of headmen listening. Close-up of an old man wearing a tassled shawl or poncho. A wooden bridge; the two military policemen and the town headmen seen earlier walk across it to visit a Buddhist pagoda. The beret-wearing MP sergeant chats with a Burmese civilian; both smoke pipes. The three men (MPs and headman) scramble up a wall; the MP in the peaked cap has a shoulder flash reading 'MP (I)' (Military Police (Intelligence) ?). An MP talks with the headman. The pagoda spire. The MPs and headman depart by jeep. A flagstaff being prepared. Civilians watch. Group of civilians with (British?) servicemen in the background. A shirtless British soldier wearing spectacles, beret and mustache holds a white tape or cord. An Indian soldier up the flagpole cuts through a protruding piece of wood with a saw. An Indian with a rolled Union flag. Troops on parade for the flagraising including Indian Sikhs in turbans, other Indian troops in helmets or berets and British soldiers. Close-up of two moustachioed Indian soldiers in berets; one wears a Red Cross armband so a medic or stretcherbearer etc. Close-up of a British 1st Lieutenant of the Royal Armoured Corps. Seated locals with servicemen behind. The furled flag rises up the pole before unfurling.


A fine film, obviously carefully shot, with a strong narrative thread. According to the dopesheet Ramree town was first entered by troops of 5th Battalion 1st Punjab Regiment, followed later by 1st Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment on the opposite side (both of these being part of 71st Indian Infantry Brigade).

Ramree was taken after an amphibious invasion led by 26th Indian Division on 21 January 1945. Fifty miles long and twenty miles wide, it presented a large area to clear and housed a considerable Japanese garrison. Its strategic significance derived from its airfields, which besides having the advantage of being supplied from the sea, would give transport squadrons the range to cover a wide area of central Burma. It would also provide a jumping-off point for Operation Dracula, the amphibious assault on Rangoon, which would also be conducted by 26th Indian Division.



During the 1930s Bryan Langley was employed as a cameraman by British International Pictures, where he worked on films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Number Seventeen (1932). He signed up for military duty in 1941, working for the Army Film Unit for whom he filmed several conflicts (Ogidi). One of his responsibilities was to set up the Indian Army’s Public Relations Film Unit, based at Tollygunge, Calcutta (Gladstone). The footage taken by the unit was used internally for Indian Army purposes. Some of the footage was edited into films that received a wider distribution, both in India and, via the Ministry of Information, abroad (for example, Burma Victory (1945) and Johnny Gurkha (1945)). Langley trained Indian soldiers as cameramen, and he later recalled his satisfaction in teaching ‘four or five of those lads’ who went on to film military operations in India and Burma (Langley, 1987). Among the cameramen working for Public Relations Directorate was Jemadar Balwant Singh, who filmed these rushes of the liberation of Ramree Town.

The battle for Ramree Island, which is located off the Arakan Coast in Burma, was part of the amphibious advance on the country in 1945. Ramree was of strategic significance for two reasons: it housed airfields from which it was planned to supply the 14th Army on the central Burma plain, and it would serve as a jumping-off point for Operation Dracula, the amphibious assault on Rangoon (Bush, 1945). Furthermore, tying down the Japanese divisions in this area would prevent them from reinforcing units on the mainland (Marston, 2003, 179).

On 21 January 1945, the 26th Indian Division landed unopposed on Ramree Island (Marston, 2003, 179). However, a large Japanese garrison was stationed on the island, and as troops advanced on Ramree Town on 7 February they met considerable opposition (Kirby, 1965, 220). It took two days to occupy the town. Naval forces then concentrated on blocking escape routes from the island. As a result, many Japanese faced ‘indescribable horrors’ and died as they tried to leave the island via its mangrove swamps (Bush, 1945). In his dope sheets Singh notes that ‘Ramree resistence [sic] cost to Japs about a thousand killed’.

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). Despite being a part of the Empire since 1886, Burma had only recently come under direct British control, having been administered as a province of India until 1937. The early twentieth century had witnessed much anti-British sentiment in the country, and Arakan was the location of several insurgencies against colonial rule (Allen, 1984, 9). The Japanese captured Burma in May 1942. Subsequently, the new occupiers granted Arakan its autonomy, as well as its own army, the Arakan Defence Force. However, in line with several other Burmese factions that had originally sided with the Japanese, the Arakan Defence Force switched its allegiance to the Allies towards the end of the War (Jackson, 2006, 402-03).



Jemadar Balwant Singh is clearly a skilled filmmaker. Although this film is comprised of rushes, the various shots that he has chosen would require little editing or verbal accompaniment in order to make their narrative manifest. It is therefore all the more interesting to note which factors of the liberation of Ramree Town he has chosen to highlight. The production date given for Singh’s footage is 12 February 1945. His concern is not with the battle against the Japanese. They are not to be seen in this film, which commences after the town had been captured. Instead, the main focus of these rushes is the interaction between the local people and military personnel.

Despite the involvement of Indian troops in this operation, the opening sections of this film focus on the relationships between British troops and Burmese townspeople. The footage opens with a sequence in which a crowd of locals celebrates the arrival of military personnel, who are referred to by the cameraman as being ‘security persons’. This sequence is clearly orchestrated. Singh is awaiting the soldiers: his camerawork follows their jeep with a panning movement as it pulls up amongst the town people, who have been lined up to clap and cheer. In his dope sheets Singh remarks that the townspeople were ‘very pleased to see them’, and there does appear to be delight at the soldiers’ (re)arrival. Moreover, despite its obvious propaganda value, there is genuine charm in the footage of the soldiers, as we see them interact with the village children and allow their jeep to be decorated with flowers. In order to capture this sequence of the soldiers’ reception, Singh films from a number of positions, and features many individual portraits, effectively capturing both the soldiers’ and the townspeople’s responses.

According to the dope sheets, the reason for the visit of the security personnel was to give instructions to the town’s headmen and to assure them of the ‘security of their properties’. This procedure is captured on film, but Singh devotes less time to it than he does to the propaganda-worthy footage of the soldiers’ arrival. However, here too there is evidence of his narrative abilities. He films establishing long shots, showing the local men gathered for the soldiers’ address, and he also films from amongst them, capturing their enthusiastic reactions as the news unfolds.

Cementing this positive portrayal of the relationship between the locals and their liberators, there is footage of the town’s headmen taking the security personnel on a visit to a local pagoda. Here the British soldiers are obviously playing to the camera. It looks as though they have deliberately adopted casual stances in a scene in which they are shown talking to some locals, and their interest in the pagoda is similarly choreographed: they are depicted pointing up at it and absorbing the information that is supplied about it.

It is not until the closing section of the film that any of the liberating Indian soldiers are witnessed onscreen. They are not seen interacting with locals as liberators like the British soldiers, instead they form part of another propaganda ritual: the unfurling of the Union flag. Singh captures a variety of images from a variety of positions. There are medium close-ups of the flag at each stage of its unveiling; there are portrait shots of both the Indian and British troops who are involved in running the flag up its pole; and, most importantly, there are shots of the British troops, the Indian troops, and the local people, who are unified under its banner.

Richard Osborne (February 2009)


Works Cited

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

Bush, Eric, ‘Ramree Island Jan-Feb 1945’,

Gladstone, Kay, ‘Borg el Arab: Filming in the Desert’,

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

Langley, Bryan, ‘BECTU Interview Part 3 (1987)’,

Marston, Daniel, Phoenix from the Ashes: The Indian Army in the Burma Campaign (London: Praeger, 2003).

Ogidi, Ann, ‘Langley, Bryan (1909-2008)’,



Series Title:

Technical Data

Running Time:
7 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
558 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Public Relations Directorate, India
Singh, B (Jemadar)