This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: RMY 79).


I. "News from Ceylon." Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton, Commander-in-Chief of Ceylon, and Sir Henry Turnbull, Officer in Command, are escorted by elephants when they visit an ancient Buddhist temple at Kelaniya. Monks watch the procession. The Admiral removes his shoes, a sign that "thus too does Britain show her respect for freedom of worship, which such other freedoms she is fighting for". Close-up views of temple friezes. Wall paintings at the rock fortress of Sigiriya.

II. (Maharajah of Nawanagar speaks to Baroda Squadron on 14/10/1942.) Maharajah of Nawanagar (Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji) "one of India's most vital provinces", visits the Baroda Squadron (No 124 at Tangmere) and steps out of a Spitfire before addressing the men (live sound). Speaking informally he promises to visit the squadron at its ordinary routine and answer any questions about his country. "The real India is your brothers-in-arms, two million of whom have volunteered and they will say that those brown boys are doing their job and doing it very well. Like India is the brightest jewel in the British crown, so the brightest jewel in Baroda is the Baroda Squadron. God bless you and good luck!"



Universal News was one of five newsreel companies operating in Britain at the outbreak of World War II. Between them these companies commanded a weekly domestic audience of 20 million, with the films of Gaumont-British receiving the largest circulation (Smith, 1976, 112). Gaumont-British also assumed editorial control of Universal News, which was an American-owned company, and was considered to be the poor relation of the other newsreels (Smith, 1976, 112). This edition of Universal News was released in November 1942. Its two stories concern India and Ceylon, countries that had different relationships with Britain during World War II.

Rather than support the Allies, the leading Indian political party, the Indian National Congress (INC), resigned from government at the outbreak of the War. 1942 had seen this situation intensify. With Japan now representing a threat to India, the British Cabinet saw increased need for the INC’s involvement in government. Consequently, the ‘Cripps Offer’ was made, promising Dominion status for India in return for support during the War. The INC’s rejection of this offer led instead to the open rebellion of the ‘Quit India’ movement and the subsequent imprisonment of the party’s leaders.

There was, however, also support within India for the War. The Indian Army grew from about 200,000 men in 1939 to about 900,000 by the end of 1941 (Jackson, 2006, 363). Furthermore, Ian Copland suggests that groups such as the Muslim League and the Indian Princes ‘flourished in the vacuum’ opened up by the withdrawal of the INC from government. The War benefited the Princes in various ways: it generated a martial atmosphere to which they were suited; their states benefited economically from the demand for war materials; and they could once again demonstrate their loyalty to the Crown, thus redeeming themselves for backtracking on proposals for a federation of their Princely states with British India (Copland, 1997, 183-85).

The Prince depicted in this newsreel, Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji, the Maharajah of Nawanager, was among those who donated to the War cause, in his case providing funds for a torpedo training school (Copland, 1987, 185). In 1938 he became chancellor of the Chamber of Princes (COP), the body by which the Princes lobbied their cause to the government of India. He was regarded as having a gift for politics, and was responsible for enlarging the COP and improving its finances (Copland, 1987, 189-90). During the War he urged rulers visiting Britain to stress ‘the importance of the Princely cause’ (Copland, 1997, 192). His loyalty was rewarded with governmental appointments: during the War he was a member of the Imperial War Cabinet and the National Defence Council  (‘Nawanagar’). Nevertheless, he was also supportive of nationalist aims in India, and following independence was one of the first Princes to accede his state to the new government. 

The political leadership of Ceylon co-operated with the British during the War. Following the victories of Japan in south-east Asia in early 1942, Ceylon had an important military role to play. Providing a vantage point to both coasts of India, Churchill considered the island as a ‘key point we have to hold’ (Jackson, 2006, 307). The island became an armed camp and its strategic importance led to the civilian government being subordinated to military command, with Sir Geoffrey Layton serving as Commander-in-Chief. The civilian government, led by the governor Sir Andrew Caldecot, offered its full support in the War, and directed the island’s resources and manpower towards the campaign.

The differing political attitudes in India and Ceylon helped both countries to achieve independence after the War. Judith Brown argues that in India the Cripps Offer was ‘the point at which the British departure after the war became inevitable’ (Brown, 1994, 328). In Ceylon, on the other hand, the support given by its political leaders led British officials, including Layton, Caldecot and Lord Louis Mountbatten, to support the cause for independence (Ashton, 2001, 461). 



Despite being markedly different in terms of style, mode of address and location, the two stories featured in this edition of Universal News tell corresponding stories of the co-operation between Britain and the colonies during the War.

The first section is filmed in Ceylon, and features Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton and Sir Henry Parnell, Officer-in-Command, being conducted by locals on a visit to the Buddhist temple of Kelaniya and the fortress of Sigiriya. The beauty of ‘lovely Ceylon’ is stressed and the film focuses on the island’s exotic traditions and crafts. There are images of decorated elephants, tribal dancing, and temple carvings. In this film these traditions are lauded (oddly, as being ‘so typical of the impressiveness of India’s religious life’). They are also depicted for propaganda purposes. On the one hand, the commentary stresses that ‘picturesque ceremonies’ have not fallen into disuse, ‘even during wartime’. On the other hand, the officials’ visits are portrayed as being reflective of British understanding of foreign practices. This is spelt out directly when Layton removes his shoes at the Buddhist temple. The commentary states, ‘thus, too, does Britain show her respect for freedom of worship’. The Ceylonese support for the Allied cause is also underlined. We first witness Layton and Parnell being garlanded with flowers by a local official; the streets are lined with well-wishers on their walk to the temple; and the commentary singles out a Buddhist monk who ‘saved a crashed airman’s life during a Jap attack on Colombo’. This monk is not singled out by the camera, however. Layton and Parnell are the only people to be individualised and named in this section of the news report. This slightly undercuts the portrayal of reciprocal understanding; the Ceylonese, for the most part, are given the role of supportive crowds.

Roles are reversed in the second section of the film. After opening with shots of the Maharajah of Nawangar arriving at a British airfield, followed by his inspection of the Baroda squadron, the bulk of this report consists of the Maharajah making an address. Here it is the British who are cast as extras: the squadron is reduced to the role of a passive, and invisible, audience. During the speech the camera is concentrated directly upon the Maharajah (while four senior officers listen respectfully behind him) and, unusually for a news report of this period, his words are captured directly on the film. The cinema audience is provided with the squadron’s point-of-view. The Maharajah speaks of the Indian support for the War, telling the audience that Indian servicemen are their ‘brothers in arms’, and that ‘two millions of them have volunteered and they will readily die for the same cause as yourselves’. He also imagines the audience’s reaction when they see Indians in action: ‘you will say that all brown boys are doing their job and doing it very well’.

In itself, this footage of an Indian guest assuming seniority over a British squadron provides a powerful image of the understanding that has developed during the War. However, what makes the Maharajah’s words more interesting is their (almost) unspoken background: the rebellion of the Quit India movement. He never mentions the movement directly, but does let slip that ‘you may have read in the paper all sorts of nonsense – that’s not the real India’. It is the Maharajah’s duty – and the film’s – to inform the audience what the real India is all about.

Richard Osborne (February 2010)


Works Cited

Ashton, S.R., ‘Ceylon’, in The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume IV: The Twentieth Century, ed. by Judith M. Brown and Wm. Roger Louis (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 447-64.

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

Copland, Ian, The Princes Of India in the Endgame of Empire, 1917-1947 (Cambridge: CUP, 1997).

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

‘Nawanagar’, http://www.royalark.net/India/nawana.htm.

Smith, Paul, The Historian and Film (Cambridge: CUP, 1976).




Technical Data

Running Time:
5 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
414 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Production company