This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: PMO 24).


Amateur film shot by Captain Clifford Williams (Sikh Regiment) when a junior staff officer with the Punjab Boundary Force, attached to 11th Infantry Brigade, records the eastward movement of Hindu refugees across the Punjab into India and the westward flight of Moslem refugees towards Pakistan. Ground level views cover packed transport and the aftermath of two massacres (perpetrators unidentified), while aerial views from a Lysander convey the extent of the disorder at the time of Indian independence and the creation of East and West Pakistan.

Panned shot of refugee camp, pitched beside a railway line. Refugee camp with three Indian soldiers standing guard. Indian boy sat on army jeep with Indian soldiers gathered round. Shots of a large refugee camp, soldiers and Indian helpers feed the refugees. Men and women dig – possibly for a mass grave - as an army officer looks on. European and Asian soldiers displaying what appears to be home-made weapons and armour. British and Asian soldiers inspecting the exposed engine of an old plane. Aerial shots: refugee camps; convoys of refugees; steam trains with people crowded on their roofs; a town; a city showing evidence of damage to buildings. An amphibious craft. Indian soldiers talking to a civilian outside a building that says ‘MUNSHI RAM’ above its doorway. Indian soldiers inspecting damaged buildings. Soldiers registering civilians. Daily life: a man working a loom; oxen ploughing; people fetching water from a well. British and Sikh soldiers beside a propeller plane. Aerial shots of Amritsar, showing evidence of damage to buildings. A rickshaw. British soldier beside a stone mileage sign reading ‘Tibet 192; Narkanda 35; Kufri 4’. A diesel train in a station. Sikh and European soldiers shown with a variety of military vehicles. Soldiers instructing people in a refugee camp. Army trucks in motion, crowded with refugees. Panned shots of a refugee camp. Sikh soldier getting into a propeller plane. Aerial shots of a refugee convoy. Indian and European soldiers beside a propeller plane which says ‘Governor General of India’ on its front. Jawaharlal Nehru (?) and other politicians shown beside the plane. Corpses among scrubland. British solders beside a grave for an Anglican burial. Jeeps and tanks in a refugee camp. A swollen river beneath a metal bridge. Several shots of a crowded refugee camp. An Indian soldier dispensing food. Dead cattle and destroyed property in a village. A camp which has dead beasts on its perimeter. A train that has reached a ruined bridge. Large numbers of refugees gathered around and trying to access a crowded train. Women making bread. A young Indian boy and girl. Indian soldiers and an Indian youth beside a jeep. Indian soldiers beside a grave. Sign saying ‘H.O. 11. INF. BDE.’ Indian soldiers with papers exiting a large, official building. Locals in a village that has been attacked. Posed shots of men and girls in a refugee camp. A family with their herd of cattle. An oxen-driven well. Indian men constructing a footbridge. Indians on horseback driving cattle. Mounds – possibly graves – in a refugee camp. A man and boy digging graves. A crowd of people washing themselves in a city street. A crowded steam train on a damaged railway, it crosses a bridge on the one good line. Posed shots of men and boys in a refugee camp. Refugees on lorries. People on a dusty road, oxen-carts piled high with their belongings. This exodus passes a signpost saying ‘Amritsar’. Ducks and birds feeding. Military personnel and jeeps. Another camp. A naked corpse. Crowds in a street. A flock of birds. A cow’s corpse being picked at by a dog. Crowded vehicles heading down a road. Soldiers forming the armed guard for a train. A convoy of military vehicles, soldiers in the troop carriers are armed. Soldiers carrying the corpse of an animal. Locals cleaning their clothes in a river. Government buildings in Delhi. Indian soldiers and a dog in a jeep. A street in Delhi. A view of some mountain tops. A British soldier (Captain Clifford Williams?) swimming in a river with boys. He joins a party of Europeans on the riverbank who are laughing at his antics. The party laugh and wave to camera.


Technical: Original films are 8mm. It is not known if the chronological order of the copies is correct. Poor condition of film stock and lack of sharpness mean detail is difficult to discern.

Shot list entry by Dr Richard Osborne, AHRC Colonial Film Database 2010.



The partition of India was announced in the Indian Independence Act, passed on 18 July 1947. The division of the country on the basis of religious demographicsled to the creation on 14 August 1947 of the two-state Dominion of Pakistan, which was predominantly Muslim, and on 15 August 1947 of the Union of India, which was predominantly Hindu. Although no migration was intended to occur (Jeffrey, 1974, 504), partition resulted in the transfer of up to 12.5 million people across the new borders; the number of people killed in the violence that accompanied this divide has been variously estimated at between several hundred thousand and a million (Metcalf and Metcalf, 2006, 221-22).

The area that witnessed the greatest population movement and the most widespread disturbances was the newly divided Punjab Province. The June 3rd Partition Plan stipulated that 17 districts of the state would now form Western Punjab in Pakistan, while the 12 remaining districts would form Eastern Punjab in India. The exact lines of partition had still not been determined when the violence broke out. Sikhs, who formed a large minority population in the Punjab and who had been denied their own country in the plans for partition, began large-scale attacks against Muslims in the Amritsar district on 9 August (Ahmed, 2007). The violence continued until October, with the Muslims in Western Punjab in turn targeting Sikhs (Jeffrey, 1974, 505). As the violence intensified, villages emptied and refugee columns formed (Jeffrey, 1974, 508). Trains and railways were targeted, and on 24 August rail travel in the state was declared officially unsafe (Jeffrey, 1974, 504). This did not halt the migration. It has been estimated that within a year and a half of partition, half a million people had moved in each direction across the divided state (Brown, 1994, 339).

The Punjab Boundary Force was constituted on July 17 to monitor events in the 12 central districts of the Punjab (Ahmed, 2007). The Force, which represented the last incarnation of the old British India Army, had an operational existence of only thirty-two days, from 1 August to 1 September (Jeffrey, 1974, 491). As well as dealing with the violence, they also had to undertake the initial monitoring of refugee camps, some of which held up to 50,000 people (Jeffrey, 1974, 509). The PBF in addition helped move refugees to both parts of the state, transferring them in their lorries (Jeffrey, 1974, 509).

The PBF was not able to contain the violence. The number killed in this region has been estimated at anywhere between 20,000 and more than 600,000 by the end of 1947 (Jeffrey, 1974, 520). According to Ishtiaq Ahmed, the Force was ‘woefully undermanned’, with only 12,000 men to cover 37,500 square miles (Ahmed, 2007). As a ratio of the local population the PBF stood at 1:630 (Jeffrey, 1974, 500). The PBF was also ill equipped. Robin Jeffrey has claimed that ‘In aircraft and air support, the Force was remarkably deficient’ (Jeffrey, 1974, 513). Further problems were that the PBF was comprised of troops of differing religious backgrounds, and that the majority of its battalions included men from the Punjab. Jeffrey notes that ‘These troops were, in many cases, being asked to fire on their co-religionists or to protect members of another community’ (Jeffrey, 1974, 514). He believes that it was the collapse of morale among the PBF that led to the decision to disband it (Jeffrey, 1974, 515). At midnight on 2 September the responsibility for law and order in the Punjab was transferred to the governments of India and Pakistan.

This amateur film was shot in August 1947 by Captain Clifford Williams, who was then serving as a junior staff officer in the Sikh Regiment of the Punjab Boundary Force. The Sikh Regiment was founded in 1846 and historically has had close ties with the Sikh people of the Punjab.  



Captain Williams’ surviving film is scratched and grainy and therefore some of the scenes are difficult to discern. This includes some of the possibly more disturbing footage in the film: is the large pit that soldiers are seen digging in a refugee camp a mass grave? Are the numerous mounds shown in another camp more graves? Are some of the bodies that we see dead or alive? It is also unclear whether or not one of the people featured in the footage is the leader of the Indian National Congress, Jawaharlal Nehru. Despite its inconclusiveness, the film remains a valuable document of the effects of partition in the Punjab.

The film is wide-ranging, not only in terms of the subjects it captures, but also in relation to the ways in which they are filmed. It includes footage of many different refugee camps, which are filmed with a view to conveying their scale. This is achieved either through the use of panned shots, filmed from within the camps, or by footage filmed by Williams from one of the PFB’s few operational planes. His aerial shots also capture the vast numbers of people migrating along the Punjab’s roads. In addition, they include shots of Punjab’s cities, notably Amritsar. The aerial footage is usually filmed with a motion of passing from right to left, but it is not possible to work out whether this is meant to imply population movement heading in a particular direction. There are, however, clues relating to the Williams’s own progress: he occasionally films road signs that mark the distance to local towns, unfortunately not all of the footage of these signposts remains clear.

Rail travel is a recurring feature of the film: the first camp pictured is pitched beside a railway line; some of the aerial shots show trains in motion, others show crowded trains. Elsewhere the footage shows the damage wrought to the railway system, including shots of destroyed viaducts, and of the Punjab Boundary Force forming an armed guard for a train.

The film captures the discrepancy between the small number of Punjab Boundary Force soldiers and the hordes of people with whom they had to deal. A panned shot of one of the large refugee camps eventually brings into view the three Indian soldiers who stand guard. We also get to see something of the mixed constitution of the Force: in one scene British, Sikh, and other Indian soldiers are shown with what appears to be captured makeshift arms and armour. Here there is surprising levity as the soldiers pose with the weapons for the camera. We see further evidence of the work they undertook: the distribution of food in the camps; the transfer of people in army lorries. One thing that is not seen is any direct engagement with violence. We do see its effects, however: burnt out buildings; the bloated carcasses of slaughtered animals; a number of human bodies that are clearly dead. It is possible that the film follows the work of the PBF through to its conclusion: the final images are filmed outside the Punjab, showing first the streets of Delhi, and then a white soldier with friends and/or family, laughing and waving to camera.

This film is full of familiar images that can be seen in other films about India made by the British. Here they take on a different hue. Footage of Indians crammed onto the roofs of railway carriages is a common sight, but it has a graver impact here. Similarly, this film’s ethnographical studies, in which locals are lined up for the camera’s gaze, have a disturbing story to tell. Other images make an impact through their unexpectedness. Included are practices that crop up regularly in documentary film: locals working looms, ploughing, fetching water from wells, carrying goods upon their heads. Here these images take their place alongside footage of death, destruction and mass migration.

Richard Osborne (May 2010)


Works Cited

Ahmed, Ishtiaq, ‘Negotiations on Punjab – 1947’ (1 September 2007), http://www.apnaorg.com/articles/news-26/.

Brown, Judith M., Modern India: The Origins of an Asian Democracy, 2nd edn (Oxford: OUP, 1994).

Jeffrey, Robin, ‘The Punjab Boundary Force and the Problem of Order, August 1947’, Modern Asian Studies, 8/4 (1974), 491–520.

Metcalf, Barbara and Thomas R. Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India (Cambridge and New York: CUP, 2006).




Technical Data

Film Gauge (Format):
1883 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Williams, C H