This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: ABY 2).


Film presumably intended for distribution in RAF camp cinemas in India and Burma illustrates the work done by RAF Welfare in arranging the screening of feature films for service personnel in remote locations.

The setting up of a cinema by local Indian labourers, RAF personnel queuing for tickets, projectionist loading film. Film material loaded aboard a Douglas Dakota of RAF 31 Squadron. Inside the auditorium for a showing of the film 'The Gentle Sex' (Leslie Howard, director, 1943). Voice-over commentary emphasises the closeness of the cinema to the frontline, the Cinema Welfare Unit's status as an integral part of the RAF, and the speed with which film material is delivered to the front.


Mute unedited rushes held under IWM reference ABY 2A



The RAF Film Production Unit was formed in 1941, with its primary function to provide a film record of the RAF’s work at home and abroad. Yet the Unit, based at Pinewood, also provided documentary films for the Ministry of Information, propaganda features and, as noted in a history of the Unit produced shortly after the War, ‘a limited number of films for purely RAF internal consumption for the purposes of training and Welfare’ (History of the Royal Air Force Film Production Unit). Welfare with its Finger Out, shot in February 1944, would seemingly fit within this final category.

The number 3 Film Production Unit was stationed in the Far East from early 1944, with Wing-Commander Thomas Dixon Connochie – who had worked as production manager on King Solomon’s Mines and assistant director on The Lady Vanishes – at its head. Welfare with its Finger Out, produced from rushes held within the archive, was shot in ‘the Bengal jungle’. It can thus be seen within the context of both the military campaign in Burma, and also the ongoing problems in Bengal. By February 1944, food distribution within Bengal was improving, but epidemics (notably malaria, cholera and smallpox) continued to spread throughout the region. The Times reported that the army ‘have been an invaluable reinforcement for the provincial government’, but opposition to the British, highlighted during the 1942 ‘Quit India’ movement, was intensified in many areas (The Times, 28 December 1944, 3).

The work of the Cinema Welfare Unit and the presentation of cinema shows was carried out on a number of RAF bases. For example, at Digri in East Bengal there was a cinema building with approximately a hundred seats, to which the Welfare Unit would bring recent films. The Cinema Welfare Unit subsequently became the Army Kinema Section and later the Combined Kinema Section. These units were comprised of British and Indian troops, as each British projectionist was assigned an Indian soldier, known as an IOR (Indian Other Rank) to help as an assistant projectionist and as a relief driver. Furthermore, while the film programme often included the latest films, cartoons and newsreels flown in from England, the units also showed Indian pictures to Indian troops. The Gentle Sex, released in 1943, depicted the varied work of women in the Auxiliary Territorial Service and was made by Two Cities Films, with the co-operation of both the Auxiliary Territorial Service and the War Office. 



Welfare with its Finger Out illustrates both the camaraderie of the RAF servicemen and the efficiency of its Welfare Units. It presents a clearly structured narrative, from the construction of the cinema through to the booking, screening and finally, in the last shot, the departure of the film by aeroplane. The depiction of the local population’s role within this process offers significant insights into colonial attitudes.

Intially the film appears to reinforce traditional representations as the local workers are defined purely in relation to their function of helping the British. The Indians perform two roles within the film. They serve the RAF men drinks, as the 'dope sheet' suggests, and most significantly, they construct the cinema building. Supervised by a British officer, carrying a stick, the local people are first shown cutting down trees. The land is cleared, and the Indians are working, literally, to provide entertainment for the British. At a time of extreme famine and disease, the welfare is directed not at the Bengalis, but rather at aiding the RAF servicemen. The cinema building, appearing here as a symbol of western affluence and development, is closed to those local people who construct it. There is a stark contrast between what is shown – the construction of a cinema – and the probable reality of life away from the camera for these Indians.

The film does, however, inadvertently highlight the expertise and skill of the local population in performing what the commentary describes as ‘perhaps the most sophisticated aspect of RAF work’. The film also attempts to position this as important work within the context of the war, as the ‘bricks are carted metaphorically under Japanese noses’. The Indians are thus incorporated within the war effort. 

The film foregrounds the speed and efficiency of the RAF operation. The personnel are relaxed – the one female character, a secretary, sits on the corner of the desk – and shots of local colour are included (most notably a monkey). However, this is a distinctly masculine world. It is ironic that the film showing at the cinema should be The Gentle Sex. This Leslie Howard film attempts to dismiss, albeit in a rather patronising manner, female stereotypes, in order to promote the essential role of women in the war effort. The point seems to have been missed in this film, as the men stare at the poster (‘Ho ho, what’s this?’). It is an entirely masculine audience, with the commentary further emphasising the homosocial dynamics here (‘…can’t hold hands in these pictures’). The attitudes displayed within the film thus suggest that The Gentle Sex is enjoyed for its voyeuristic depiction of young women – for example in dormitory scenes and in trying on their uniforms – rather than for its promotion of the female war effort.

Tom Rice (February 2008)


Works Cited

Baker-Read, George, ‘Christmas 1944: Putting on a Show at RAF Digri, Bengal’, WW2 People’s War, www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/97/a2754597.shtml (accessed 1 December 2007).

Buckman, Kenneth, ‘The Royal Air Force Film Production Unit, 1941-45’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television(June 1997).

History of the Royal Air Force Film Production Unit (Author/Date unknown), accessed from the Imperial War Museum.

Rawlinson, Ken, ‘The Wartime Experience of a Buckinghamshire Lad’, http://www.burmastar.org.uk/kensexperience.htm (accessed 15 January 2008).

‘R.A.F. Awards’, The Times, 15 April 1944, 2.

‘Bengal After Famine’, The Times, 28 December 1944, 3.



Series Title:

Technical Data

Running Time:
4 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
337 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Air Ministry Directorate of Public Relations
Thomas, R H (Flying Officer)
Production company
Royal Air Force Film Production Unit





Production Organisations