Modern Sikh history through British Movietone News footage

From 1895 through 1986, British Movietone News produced documentary newsreels, reporting on events around the world and providing some of the earliest news footage for our historical record. These newsreels are archived now by the Associated Press:

British Movietone is arguably the world’s greatest newsreel archive, spanning the period 1895 – 1986. Shot on 35mm film, this global archive contains many of the world’s enduring images and is rich in coverage of news events, celebrities, sports, music, social history, science, lifestyle and quirky. It was the first newsreel to include sound, the first to use colour film, the first to break many exclusive stories, and is your first and last stop for newsreel footage. The collection is fully digitized and now available from AP Archive.

A recent social media post by Anirvan Chatterjee (of the Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour, among other things) pointed to this archive. It was of interest to explore what Sikh history might have been captured by British Movietone News. Accordingly, what follows are a variety of news clips from British Movietone News that depict Sikhs, as published by the Associated Press. It’s fascinating journey through time, considering the images, the history, and how that history was reported.

1942: “Indians Reinforce Singapore” (more information)

“The men arrive aboard a transport and disembark. They are driven a way in lorries. Many give the V-sign. Sikhs”


1943: “India’s Fighting Men” (more information)

Showing Sikh and other Indian soliders in 1943 mobilizing for war.


1946: “Simla Conference” (more information)

“The Conference to decide the fate of India has ended in deadlock.”


1947: “Amritsar’s Ruins” (more information)

“The city of Amritsar has suffered in the riots which have taken place between Hindus/Sikhs and Muslims.”



1947: “Punjab Disturbances” (more information)

Sikh and Hindus have carried on fighting in various parts of the Punjab region. Refugees have been moving in both directions across the border between India and Pakistan.


1947: Refugee Population Exchange (more information)

“As the population continues to move between India and Pakistan, Sikhs make the trip to Amritsar. American doctors have been inoculating them against cholera.”


1947: “Lord Louis Visits NW Frontier” (more information)

‘The Viceroy and Lady Mountbatten have been visiting the North West Frontier and Punjab.”


1952: “Sikh Festival” (more information)

“Near the Sikh Temple in Delhi, many thousands of Sikhs gathered to honour Guru Nanak, the founder of their religion, on the anniversary of his birthday.”


1958: “War Memorial Unveiled” (more information)

“Meerut Cantonment, India. G.V. Memorial before unveiling. M.S. Crowd. C.U. Wives and relatives. C.U. Same. M.S. Sikh Fighters. C.U. Same. M.S. Mr. Nehru inspects Guard of Honour. C.U. Sikh soldier. G.V. Memorial before unveiling. M.S. Lt. Gen. Sir. Yadivindra Singh making speech. M.S. Nehru uncovers roll of honour. C.U. Memorial unveiled. M.S. Buglers. C.U. Same. M.S. Mr. Nehru. walks with wreath. M.S. Nehru lays wreath on memorial. M.S. Sikh officer lays wreath. G.V. Memorial.”


1961: “The Fasting Sikh” (more information)

“Near the Sikhs’ golden temple in the holy city of Amritsar, crowds wait all day and pray for the man, Master Tara Singh, who has undertaken a “fast unto death”. At the age of seventy-six, the Sikh leader has undertaken this fast for political reasons, the demand for a Punjabi-speaking state and a measure of Sikh autonomy.”


1961: “The Queen in India” (more information)

“Shots of dignataries watching parade. Queens plane lands and taxis. Guard of Honour. Queen inspecting Guard of Honour. Queen making speech. Queen arrives at Presidential Residence. Republic Parade. Tanks on low loaders turn guns in salute. Cavalry – Bangal Lancers. Various of children in parade. Camel Corps. Army march past including Sikhs and Gurkhas. Ceremonial elephants. More shots of arrival, Mrs Pandit, Nehru. Tracking past crowd.”


1962: “Sikhs Volunteer” (more information)

“Sikh youths on parade ground. Sikh girls. Elderly Sikhs talking. Dr Zakir Hussein and Nehru greeted. Inspects Sikhs. Adress convention.”


1966: “Exchange of Prisoners” (more information)

“Various scenes of exchange of prisoners between Pakistanis and Indians. Sikhs being marched, same exchange for Pakistanis. Officers at desk checking prisoners.”


1975: “Festival of Hola” (more information)

“A three day Ceremony where Sikhs renew their religious beliefs – the five Sikh Warrior Saints, pledge to uphold Truth, Religion and Honour.”


1977: “Indian Republic Day Parade” (more information)

“India celebrates her 28th year as a Republic and President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi view the Parade as it passes along the ‘Rajpath’ in New Delhi.”





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