This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: NPA 1173).


British newsreel covering the British retreat through Burma, an exclusive report by British Paramount cameraman Maurice Ford.

Opening titles "Burma. A War Correspondent's Despatch. Film and Story by Maurice Ford". A posed shot of British Paramount cameraman Maurice Ford with his Newman Sinclair camera mounted on a tripod opens this newsreel account of British rearguard action in Burma. Late January/February 1942, views of bomb damaged Rangoon and refugees leaving the city by Irrawaddy steamer and in an over-crowded train. 21 March 1942, shots of traditional field irrigation and Burmese cattle. 1 April 1942, Punjabi engineers laying mines and obstructions in the Irrawaddy with traditional fishing carrying on regardless. February 1942, Bristol Blenheim Mk IVs of RAF 113 Squadron being bombed up for a raid. 22 February 1942, commentary introduces some of the airmen of 113 Squadron seen resting outside their tents, Magwe, Burma, (Wing Commander "Reggie" Stidolph from Southern Rhodesia, Flying Officer Jim Purvis from Halifax Nova Scotia, Wing Commander Bryan Wallis of Dublin, Sergeant Trevor Scott from Wales, Pilot Officer Owen Loane from Australia, Observer Billy Downes from Edgware London, Flight Lieutenant Ivor Beeston from Devon, Flying Officer "Cherry" Orchard from Edinburgh and Squadron Leader Peter Ford from Kensington London), Blenheim aircraft being fuelled from a bowser and bombed up. February 1942, cameraman Maurice Ford is helped into his parachute by Flight Lieutenant Percy Bodley from Johannesburg standing beside a Bristol Blenheim Mk IV aircraft and then accompanies members of 113 Squadron on the raid on Mataban [14 February 1942]. Shots from the aircraft of the Irrawaddy estuary, long shots of Rangoon and the dense jungle. Interior shots taken in the Bristol Blenheim Mk IV aircraft including film of the pilot Flight Lieutenant Percy Bodley. Air to air shots of other Bristol Blenheim Mk IV aircraft. 30 March 1942, Army officers relax and pose for the camera at an unidentified Advance Divisional Headquarters; close-ups of members of the group including Major-General Cowan (wearing a sola topee). Commanding Officer of a Frontier Force Battalion leads a group of Gurkhas into the jungle. Ground to air shots of Japanese bombers flying overhead. Long shots of Japanese bombs falling on the undefended town of Toungoo. Night shots of fires in the burning town of Toungoo. Day shots of the damage to the town of Toungoo and a long line of refugees in bullock carts on a road. Close-up shots of various refugees including a mother and small child. March 1942, a shot along a railway line and revealing members of B Company, the Gloucestershire Regiment manning a trench across the tracks, close-up shot of Colonel Bagot, Commander of the 1st Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment. Shot of members of the Gloucestershire Regiment driving along a track in the jungle in Bren Gun Carrier, one of the soldiers is introduced by the commentary as Victor Philatov born in Russia. Other members of the Gloucestershire Regiment are introduced as Arthur Togill from Bristol, Jack Godwin from Cirencester seen with shots of their Italian Breda gun. Lieutenant Christenson of the Gloucestershire Regiment orders the firing of mortars mounted on lorries on some (unseen) retreating Japanese. Cameraman Maurice Ford is seen running along a ditch carrying his camera and tripod. Gloucesters entering a Burmese village after the retreating Japanese and making a house-to-house search. Final shots show a group of the Gloucesters seated in the back of a lorry driving down a road away from the camera followed by a shot of a Burmese sunset.


Commentary notes that Maurice Ford also filmed the inferno around St Pauls Cathedral during the London Blitz and refugees in the Battle of France and is said to be heading for Calcutta.

The filming dates and the identification of individual personnel not mentioned in the newsreel commentary are taken from Maurice Ford's original Dope Sheets for the his unedited footage, see B series related items.

Date of raid on Mataban based on extracts from RAF 113 Squadron Operations Record Book supplied by former 113 member Pat Woodward (letter of 1/1/2009 - in Acquisition file): six Blenheims led by C/O W/Cdr Stidolph, including Bodley in Z7791 with fellow SAAF air gunner Gerloff and observer Dumas, attacked the railway station and jetty at Mataban and also straffed barges in a creek four miles north west of the town. (As South African Air Force kept its Army ranks and khaki uniforms, Bodley was actually a 2nd Lieutenant.)



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 argues 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).

The footage in British Paramount News 1173 was shot by Maurice Ford in February and March of 1942. 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. His reports made him something of a star cameraman: by October 1942 he was being billed as ‘Paramount’s ace war correspondent’ (‘Maurice Ford’). British Paramount News 1173, also known as Burma: A War Correspondent’s Despatch, was credited as being the ‘longest newsreel ever issued by British Paramount’.

Ashley Jackson has argued that in the Second World War, Burma ‘never had much of a chance’ once Singapore had fallen to the Japanese early in 1942 (Jackson, 2006, 387). Burma 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 1941, 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 reached by Japanese soldiers on 8 February 1942. The Japanese gained control of Rangoon on 8 March 1942, and by the end of the month they had also defeated Chinese forces in Toungoo, providing them with a strategic platform from which to advance into central Burma (Jackson, 2006, 393). The result was the withdrawal of Allied forces towards India, the longest retreat in British military history.

The British campaign in Burma drew in military forces from throughout the Empire. Largely officered by the British, the campaign included soldiers from the UK, Nepal, East and West Africa, and India, as well as from Burma itself. Although troops from the sub-continent were predominant, it is Louis Allen’s opinion that ‘the Indian Army was not serving its own people, nor the interests of the people across whose territory the war was fought’ (Allen, 1984, 634). The people of Burma in fact had divergent interests. Japanese state-building achieved its greatest success here: Jackson has argued that among the dominant ethnic group, the Burmans, some ‘were actively anti-British and willing to work with the Japanese’ (Jackson, 2006, 386). He counters that other ethnic groups, including the Karens, Chins, Kachins and Nagas, ‘were loyal to the British, or opposed to Japanese or Burman influence, and therefore prepared to support them’ (Jackson, 2006, 386).



British Paramount News 1173 operates on a number of different and sometimes conflicting levels. The first thing that is notable about the film is how it casts its cameraman as its star. Ford’s name is featured in the credits; he is soon introduced in the commentary; and with this introduction he is also featured on screen, shown rotating his Newman Sinclair camera in a posed studio shot (his movement here neatly mirrors 180° panning shots that are included in the film). He makes further filmed appearances in the newsreel, and the commentary often stresses his involvement in what is taking place on screen.

Ford is credited with supplying the ‘film and story’ for this news report. It nevertheless remains difficult to determine the extent to which it was shaped by Paramount News. On the one hand, there is the evidence of Maurice Ford’s ‘dope sheets’, which are held at the Imperial War Museum. These record Ford’s thoughts regarding the material that he was shooting; here he appears to be following his own leads and the film’s eventual commentary can be seen to be largely consistent with his beliefs. On the other hand, it has been discovered that the editors of Paramount Newswould often plan out their stories in advance, and that the cameramen would often be expected to illustrate previously written commentaries (Hiley and McKernan, 2001, 192). Although Ford is credited with writing the film’s script, he does not speak it. It is difficult to know what decisions were made by Paramount in editing the material, or whose idea it was to centre the film around its cameraman.

This decision causes problems in the resulting film. Although the film provides valuable and often exclusive footage of the retreat through Burma, the story is edited in accordance with what is portrayed as being Ford’s personal philosophy. Early in his script he recalls Kipling’s ‘East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet’, which he now counters with‘one touch of high-explosive makes the whole world kin’. Consequently, the film attempts to present the Burmese as our fellow citizens, both of the world and of the War. Footage of Rangoon’s own ‘Piccadilly Circus’ is shown as an indication of this commonality, and the film is careful to give the Burmese nothing but praise. They are commended for taking their fate philosophically, and there is no disapprobation for them abandoning their cities: ‘all they did know is that unless they cleared out they’d be bombed again: that’s the sort of thing that’s understood just as well in Burma as in Plymouth or Rheims or Coventry’.

The film isn’t always consistent with comments that Ford makes in his dope sheets. From these we can see how the story was simplified in order to make it more positive. Ford reveals his knowledge of Burmese people who are ‘doing their best to help the Japs’, a subject that is not mentioned in this film (‘Burma and Bridge Protection’). In addition, he captured footage of Burmese ‘fifth column blokes’, whomhe filmed in handcuffs at the Irrawaddy River, but those images are not to be seen (‘General Yu & Ships Leave Rangoon’).

Despite its attempts at simplification, the film’s message remains unclear. Some of the images that are meant to show commonality also show difference (for example, the Burmese Piccadilly Circus has nothing of the hustle and bustle of the junction in London). Elsewhere Ford is drawn to images that contrast east and west (at one point he provides a carefully choreographed shot in which one of the Allies’ modern military vehicles passes by the camera to reveal the ‘ancient irrigation gadgets’ of the Burmese). Moreover, there is a fundamental difference in the ways in which Ford’s commentary and camerawork treat the Burmese people and the way they treat the Allied troops. Ford admitted that ‘They [the Burmese] don’t like to be photographed’ and that for them the process could be ‘rather humiliating’ (‘Docks at Hi-Speed’). Unfortunately, this is borne out in his ethnographic shots of the Burmese men who are working the irrigation system: they grimace awkwardly for the camera.

It is Ford’s presence in the film that does most to disturb its portrayal of the commonality between east and west. At one point in the film Ford provides individual portraits of members of 113 Squadron; here the commentary gives us a roll call of the airmen’s names and they smile pleasantly for him. Ford is familiar with these airmen and he stresses his involvement in their actions; in doing so, however, the film reveals his lack of a similar relationship with the Burmese people (none of whom isnamed). While the airmen are being highlighted, the commentary informs us of their home countries: Southern Rhodesia, Nova Scotia, Ireland, Wales, Australia, England, Scotland. Although they have varied backgrounds, they are all white; it therefore comes as a surprise tohear them described as ‘pretty much representing the whole Empire’. It is also curious that among these men was Karorilal Bhatia of the Indian Air Force, who was filmed but ended up on the cutting room floor (‘Burma Blenheim Bomber Boys’).

Indian troops are featured in the film: we are shown the activities of Punjab engineers, who are described as being ‘better men a good deal I should say than the Japanese’. However, they are shown operating as a self-contained unit and, for once, the commentary does not mention Ford’s involvement in the action taking place on screen. Despite the ostensible intentions of this film, west and east are seldom seen to meet.

Richard Osborne (July 2010)


Works Cited

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

‘Burma and Bridge Protection’, 19 March 1942, Maurice Ford Dope Sheet, Imperial War Museum, Ref: B253/A1.

‘Burma Blenheim Bomber Boys’, 22 February 1942, Maurice Ford Dope Sheet, Imperial War Museum, Ref: BAY245/3.

‘Docks at Hi-Speed’, Maurice Ford Dope Sheet, Imperial War Museum, Ref: B232/A3.

‘General Yu & Ships Leave Rangoon’, 28 February 1942, Maurice Ford Dope Sheet, Imperial War Museum, Ref: B248/A.

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 (Hambledon Continuum, 2006).

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

McKernan, Luke, ‘Newsreels’, Screenonline,




Technical Data

Running Time:
13 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
1122 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Ford, Maurice
Production company
British Paramount News
Ford, Maurice