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British military engineer's photograph album of India


Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

The Royal Bombay Sappers and Miners, which existed since 1777 under various names, were by 1941 an engineering corps staffed by both Indian and British subjects serving the needs of the British Empire on and around the Indian continent. The Sappers and Miners expanded significantly during the first and second world wars, and were allocated to India after the partition.

During World War II and until Indian independence in 1947, British, Indian, and Pakistani engineers served together in the same units and formations. The officer who created this scrapbook appears to have been involved in the building of the Palel-Tamu Road which was critical in the retreat of General Harold Alexander's Burma forces in 1942. In February 1943, he attended the Officers Mechanical Equipment Course at No. 6 Engineer Depot in Lahore. He also worked on the Tamu-Kalewa Road and widening the Cooum River for flood relief works, as well as less militaristic tasks such as demolishing a house and constructing a sports stadium in Madras City in People's Park. He worked intensively with the 717 Indian Mechanical Equipment Platoon of the Royal Indian Engineers and the 663 Indian Mechanical Equipment COY of the Royal Indian Engineers. He appears to have been stationed in Rangoon and Patiala following the end of World War II and was involved in flood relief works in Patiala State.


Verma, S and V.K. Anand. The Corps of Indian Engineers, 1939-1947. 1974

This collection chronicles the time a young British officers spent in the Royal Bombay Sappers and Miners during World War II from around 1942 and until Indian independence in 1947. The photos (about 200) capture his time in various regions of India and Burma in both military scenes and in leisure activities.

From his beginnings at the Officer Cadet Training Unit in Kirkee, through his departure from Bombay, researchers will find many photographs of various military engineering projects like road construction, building a sports stadium or general military training. Whether during work or leave, the creator paid close attention to the people and place he encountered, and captioned almost every shot. A great number of his co-workers – British and Indian – are photographed, as well as the various trips and places stationed (Poona, Amristar, Kashmir, Khyber Pass, Madras, Madura, Lahore, Burma, South Africa). Of particular note are a few photographs of Japanese soldiers surrendering swords.

Researchers interested in visual documentation of the work of engineers during and following World War II in India will find this collection to be of value; in particular, the photographs of the building of the Palel-Tamu Road and the Tamu-Kalewa Road.

One gets the sense that the creator had a great affection for the people he met which is emphasized in his own words at the end of the album: "With a heavy heart, I left a life and a country which had been my home for five years and where I really knew the meaning of companionship, friendship and a worthwhile duty."

The photographs in the album do not always seem to be in chronological order and only a very few photographs are dated, although it can be assumed that for the most part the volume is chronological. It is often difficult to tell if the creator is on leave or on active duty and whether the travel is for pleasure or part of his work as an engineer. The photographs are well-captioned and include both factual and personal reflections of his experiences.

University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Finding Aid Author
Clémence Scouten
Finding Aid Date
2016 March 3
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

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Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

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Photograph album, 1942-1947.
Volume 1

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