NFAI receives rare snapshots of Simla Conference of 1945

Pictures were taken by an officer of the Royal Indian Navy
The National Film Archive of India (NFAI) has acquired an 8 mm film of vital historical import, pertaining to the 1945 Simla Conference of British administrators, Indian leaders and diplomats. The film was sent to the NFAI by the daughter of an officer who had served in the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) and who surreptitiously filmed the arrival of leaders and diplomats at the historic conference with his personal 8 mm camera. The six-minute, black-and-white footage of the Simla Conference, which featured in one of two 8 mm tapes, was sent to the NFAI late last month by Margaret South, a resident of West Sussex in the U.K.
It was taken by Ms. South’s father, William Gledhill Taylor, who was sent on leave in Simla prior to his demobilisation and subsequent return to the British Isles. It records the arrival of the delegates to the conference, which was convened by the Viceroy Lord Wavell and lasted from June 25-July 14, 1945.
Key moments
The footage has long-shots of Mahatma Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah (possibly taken a day before the start of the actual conference), and then shows Lord Wavell and his wife, Eugenie Quirk (Countess Wavell) welcoming other Indian National Congress (INC) and Muslim League leaders, including Jinnah, on the day of the conference. “The NFAI thanks Ms. South for her thoughtfulness in preserving this footage as well as thinking of sending it to us. The footage is indeed an amazing collection of shots taken during a crucial period prior to India’s independence. Several key political personalities of the time are seen and captured on the camera, some in close-ups,” Prakash Magdum, Director, NFAI, told The Hindu . The tape begins with shots of the imposing and stately Viceregal Lodge (now known as the Rashtrapati Niwas) on the summit of the Observatory Hills, then has Jinnah arriving at the Lodge. It also has Gandhi — who was present during the conference but did not take part in the proceedings — exiting the building and walking on the grounds along with an aide and a senior British diplomat. Shots of the opening day of the conference show Lord Wavell shaking hands with Jinnah, C. Rajagopalachari, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (the the President of the INC), Babu Rajendra Prasad and Master Tara Singh, among others. The sunny optimism reflected in the smiles of the leaders in the footage at the start of the conference proved deceptive as the conclave ultimately proved a failure, with Jinnah and the Muslim League remaining adamant that the party should have an exclusive right to nominate Muslim members of the Viceroy’s Executive Council. Mr. Magdum said, “It offers a revelatory insight into the mood before the Simla Conference and hence has great archival value,” he said. Mr. Taylor, who passed away in 2010, had served with the British India Steam Navigation Company when he was just 17 and then joined the RIN when the Second World War broke out, rising to the rank of Lieutenant by the end of the war. “He later qualified as a medical surgeon in the U.K. in 1954 and returned to Simla with his wife as he had lasting and fond memories of the place. In her letter to us, Ms. South says that her father [Mr. Taylor] would have been intensely proud if his film, which captures so many important players on an historic occasion, were to be preserved by us,” said Mr. Magdum.

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