LIBERATION OF YENANGYAUNG

This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: JIN 45).

Synopsis

Indian troops of 4th Battalion, 15th Punjab Regiment (33rd Brigade, 7th Indian Division) reoccupy the oil town of Yenangyaung, Burma.

Indian troops on bare sloping ground waiting to advance. Troops advancing over sloping ground. Troops crossing frame from left to right. Men running before taking cover behind a low embankment; one of the men is a signaller carrying a wireless set on his back fitted with a very long antenna, two other men carry folded stretchers. View along the line of prone soldiers. Out of focus shot of a building some distance away. A smoke grenade explodes and the troops advance into the smoke. Troops entering low buildings on the outskirts of Yenangyaung; two of the soldiers pick up a small item from the ground (a loaf of bread?), hold it to their noses and then discard it. An officer looks at a charred object (burnt livestock?) with close-up. Two Indians surveying a site for a mortar battery. A good sequence of film showing an Indian mortar battery going into action. Wideshot of a river with smokescreen spreading. Two jeeps approaching camera. A group of Burmese civilians - who appear to be waiting for their cue - start clapping and cheering as the jeeps pull up. An Indian officer doles out cigarettes. A subedar gives out biscuits. An Indian soldier looks at a Japanese bank note. An Indian soldier buys vegetables from a Burmese woman. An Indian soldier, holding a large cheroot, talks with a Burmese civilian.

Notes

Yenangyaung had been a centre of the operations of the Burmah Oil Company. Its facilities were thoroughly sabotaged as the British retreated in 1942, and again as the Japanese retreated in 1945. It was taken by 33rd Brigade (7th Indian Division) between 20 and 22 April 1945. The troops seen in this film are identified on the dopesheet as a Punjab regiment, therefore 4th Battalion 15th Punjab Regiment.

The sequence showing the mortar battery going into action is particularly useful with good close-ups and medium shots showing how the various parts (baseplate, barrel and tripod) fit together, the setting of sights and the preparation of ammunition.

 

Context

The first reference to the oil industry in Yenangyaung, Burma is found in the writings of a Chinese traveller who visited the area in the thirteenth century (Hughes, 1949, 124). Control of the industry was in the hands of twinzayos, hereditary oil well owners. The British first became involved in the industry in 1886, when David Sime Cargill formed the Burmah Oil Company (Hughes, 1949, 124). The first machine-dug well was completed in 1888, and by 1908 a pipeline had been constructed between Yenangyaung and Rangoon (Hughes, 1949, 124).

Yengayaung’s oil was of obvious strategic importance in World War II. As the Allied forces retreated from Burma in 1942 they chose to destroy the oil fields and refinery, rather than let them fall into Japanese hands. Japanese access to oil was curtailed, with far-reaching consequences. Lord Ogmore claims that ‘it probably saved India and Ceylon from heavy bombing, it possibly safeguarded India from invasion, it almost certainly made possible the liberation of Burma in 1945’ (Ogmore, 1965, 30). Nevertheless, the Japanese did extract oil from the area, and Yenangyaung once again became a target during the Allies re-conquest of Burma in 1945.

The oil fields were vital to the maintenance of the Japanese army, whose generals were therefore determined to hold on to them (Kirby, 1965, 58). The Allies captured Yenangyaung by encircling the area. The first advances were made on 20 April 1945, and were met with artillery fire and the destruction of some of the oil holdings. The 4th Battalion, 15th Punjab Regiment, depicted in this film, backed up this initial advance (Kirby, 1965, 372). After two days of heavy fighting the Japanese retreated. The Punjab Regiment entered the town of Yenangyaung on the 21st and set about clearing the area.

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 during the Japanese occupation many Burmese sided with their new rulers (Allen, 1984, 9; Jackson, 2006, 402). However, as the Japanese started to retreat, several of these Burmese factions switched their allegiance to the Allies (Jackson, 2006, 402-03).

This film is one of the products of the Indian Army’s Public Relations film Unit, based at Tollygunge, Calcutta (Gladstone). This training school was set up by Bryan Langley, who in the 1930s had been employed as a cameraman by British International Pictures, but in the war worked for the Army Film Unit (Ogidi). The footage taken by the unit would be used internally for Indian Army purposes. Some of the footage would also be 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 was responsible for training 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 Yenangyaung.

 

Analysis

Although the rushes that comprise this film are solely concerned with the liberation of Yenangyaung, it contains material that could be used for different purposes, and within this material there are clear differences of style in the way it is filmed.

There are two main elements to this film: footage of soldiers in the field, and footage of their reception when they arrive at Yenangyaung. The latter scenes could be used for propaganda purposes, as they aim to show the positive reception of liberating troops by Burmese townspeople. In their unedited form these shots disclose the degree to which they were orchestrated. Most telling is a grouping of about twelve locals who look directly at the cameraman, clearly awaiting their cue. Abruptly, when a jeep enters screen left they commence clapping. This is supposed to represent the first soldiers entering the town, but the fact that their arrival has been re-staged is made clear by the fact that cameraman is already amongst the townspeople. Also orchestrated are the establishing long-shots of the jeep’s arrival, filmed from the locals’ point-of-view.

The cameraman stages a reciprocal exchange of gifts. Further underlining the lack of spontaneity in the scene of the jeep’s arrival, it appears that several of the locals had been equipped in readiness with gifts of flowers. Mirroring this sequence there is footage of another line of local people who, this time, are receiving gifts. One of the local girls receives hers twice. Its presentation is captured for a second time in medium close-up, disclosing her broad smile, which she makes to camera rather than to the soldier who has given her a biscuit. The Burmese in these scenes are not wholly ‘on message’. Amongst those receiving gifts there are a number of youths who are wary of the camera and stare at it fixedly. Later encounters between the locals and the troops are also arranged for the camera. Individuals are carefully framed, and the cameraman gets a clear view of the action. However, there does appear to be more spontaneous interaction and enjoyment between the military and the local people in these scenes, as they joke with bank notes (possibly devalued Japanese currency), vegetable bulbs, and a large cigar/cheroot.

The footage of the battle for Yenangyaung also has its orchestrated components. Occasionally the cameraman films from exposed positions, which if the action were genuine would have put him in danger. For most of the time, however, the action is not staged. This footage presents a positive image of a self-contained Indian army unit advancing in battle, and provides a detailed record of their actions. However, even here the cameraman’s narrative impulse is in evidence. Although no Japanese are seen in this sequence, their proximity is cleverly indicated. In one sequence the Indian soldiers smell recently cooked food, which they discover in a house that the opposing troops have vacated.

One of the most notable features of this footage is the lack of distinguishing landmarks, notably any images of the oil wells. The footage of the troops’ advance could be used for training purposes (in particular the detailed images of the mortar battery going into action), while the footage of their arrival in Yenangyaung could be used generally as an illustration of the positive reception of Allied troops by Burmese people.

Richard Osborne (February 2010)

 

Works Cited

Gladstone, Kay, ‘Borg el Arab: Filming in the Desert’,http://www.iwm.org.uk/upload/package/21/creteegypt/standegypt04.htm.

Hughes, T.L., ‘The British Contribution to the Industrial Development of Burma’, Royal Society of Arts Journal, 94.4811 (30 December 1949), 121-36.

Kirby, S. Woodburn, et al, The War Against Japan: Vol IV The Reconquest of Burma (London: HMSO, 1965).

Langley, Bryan, ‘BECTU Interview Part 3 (1987)’, http://www.screenonline.org.uk/audio/id/946226/index.html.

Ogidi, Ann, ‘Langley, Bryan (1909-2008)’, http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/778563/index.html.

Ogmore, Lord, ‘The Burmah Oil Company Affair’, Contemporary Review, 207/1194 (July 1965), 30-34.

 

Titles

  • LIBERATION OF YENANGYAUNG (Allocated)
Series Title:
INDIAN ARMY OPERATIONS IN SOUTH EAST ASIA DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR
 

Technical Data

Year:
1945
Running Time:
6 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm
Colour:
B&W
Sound:
Silent
Footage:
465 ft
 

Production Credits

Production Countries:
India
Sponsor
Public Relations Directorate, India
cameraman.
Singh, B (Jemadar)
Production company
Indian Public Relations Film Unit
 
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