Calcutta during the Second World War : an American soldier’s photo album

The Second World War altered the political and social structure of the world. In 1942, just as the Quit India movement was gaining momentum, Japan conquered Burma (Myanmar); Bengal therefore, felt the impact of the War more strongly than other parts of India. In 1942, Calcutta, war-torn and famine-stricken, came to be occupied by the U.S Army soldiers or the “General Infantry”. As a consequence, the city’s social and cultural life, underwent a transformation over the next few years. Calcutta witnessed the emergence of Jazz music, clubs, Hollywood cinema, American books and magazines and so on.

In this gallery, we present a selection of photos taken by an American military photographer, Clyde Waddell. Before the War, he had served as the personal photographer to Lord Mountbatten. His photos of Calcutta (1945-46) take us through the streets to train stations, an opium den, and even a brothel. They also feature actresses, entertainers, and iconic buildings and places. Visuals of snake charmers, bullock carts and rickshaws reaffirm the representation of the “orient”. Many of the photographs feature American soldiers stationed in Calcutta and document American military landmarks in Calcutta, such as the U.S. Army headquarters, a hotel for U.S. Army officers, and the American Red Cross, Burra Club.

The photos gained immense popularity, and Waddell eventually published them as  ‘A Yank’s Memories of Calcutta’.  The album offers a ‘typical’ American impression of India at this time. A post-colonial viewer though, might notice a condescendence in the photo-captions.

Here are some photos by the American military photographer, Clyde Waddell (with captions) that show life in Calcutta during the Second World War.

The album is part of the University of Pennsylvania Libraries’ collection and is available under an open license (CC0).

Hit the arrow buttons to view the gallery or swipe (if viewing on a mobile device)

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  1. Great photographs! I was just wondering why it has been mentioned that cameras couldn’t be purchased at the Chowringhee store

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