A television documentary on RAF bombing of civilians in 1920s and 1930s


On 21 April 1996 UK television station Channel 4 broadcast a documentary about Royal Air Force bombing and shooting of civilians in Kurdistan, now part of Iraq, and in Waziristan, now part of Pakistan, in the 1920s and 1930s. This documentary, Birds of Death, interviews both RAF officers who carried out the attacks and their surviving victims still living in the areas that were bombed.

The documentary also mentions that British bombers were sent to Sudan, Egypt and Aden in the 1930s, although there are no interviews in those countries. It also examines the archives which amongst other things reveals censorship to prevent people in England understanding what was being done.

A transcript of this documentary follows.

Transcript of Birds of Death

"Birds of Death", Director George Case, a Wall to Wall television production for Channel 4, 1992

For full credits, see below.

Transcribed by Stephen Hewitt from a broadcast on 21 April 1996 by Channel 4

[Editorial comments are in square brackets, like this one. Note that some of the subtitles were transcribed by dictating them first onto audio cassette and therefore their punctuation and spelling may not always be exactly as it appeared. However the subtitles have now been largely checked against the video. This transcript was last revised 21 February 2004 ]

[Some material at the start went unrecorded and is therefore missing]

NARRATOR: [unknown amount missing] war the Kurdish tribes people in the area started a guerrilla war against British rule. The area was inaccessible to ground troops so RAF aircraft were ordered to put down the rebellion by bombing. To find out more about this RAF bombing in Kurdistan we crossed illegally into Iraq with the Kurdish rebels. This part of Kurdistan was recently the scene of heavy fighting between the Kurds and the Iraqi army. To escape the war hundreds of thousands of refugees left the area. To date only a few have returned. In spite of this disruption, we found some people still living in the region who remember the British bombing seventy years ago.

Speaker #1 - interviewee in documentary 'Birds of Death'
Speaker #1

SUBTITLES UNDER A NEW SPEAKER, #1: We attacked the government here in Rowanduz Believe me the next day we were attacked by 15 planes They were heading to where the town offices are now From there they started bombing All 15 dropped their bombs Then they left passing the Korak mountain here Then another 15 planes came Believe me Rowanduz was in misery We were on the roofs. I was then twelve or thirteen years old We were fighting the planes on top of two-storey buildings The fighting continued for 10 days.

Speaker #2 - interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'
Speaker #2

SUBTITLES UNDER A NEW SPEAKER, #2: There were bombs falling and planes flying over They were bombing here, in the Kaniya Khoran From early morning, people started to leave, some sheltering in Dharandy others hid in the caves here until the planes left sometimes they raided three times a day they dropped so many bombs

Speaker #3 - interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'
Speaker #3

SUBTITLES UNDER A NEW SPEAKER, #3: I was living at the Kaniya Khoran when I was wounded As the planes came, I ran away I tried to get up the hill and hide there Then a bomb hit the ground. But I didn't fall, I kept going My chest was shattered. I was wounded here, and here God, in his mercy, allowed me to survive

NARRATOR: This rare archive film of the RAF in Iraq was discovered only recently. In the 1920s bomber squadrons were based at makeshift runways near the rebel Kurdish areas.

WING-CDR. Lewis 30 Squadron, Iraq - interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'
WING-CDR. LEWIS 30 Squadron, Iraq

WING-CDR. LEWIS 30 Squadron, Iraq: We used to start flying at 7 o'clock in the morning and er quite often one would get a signal stating that a certain Kurdish village had to be bombed. We used to fly in pairs because with little or no radio telephony we had to keep in touch otherwise if one of us went down no-one would know where they'd gone. And we'd fly up to the village and we would then fly over in turn and drop our bombs and go down as low as we c can to see that our bombs had actually hit the target.

NARRATOR: The pilots were ordered to machine-gun any Kurds who looked hostile.

SQDN-LDR. Kendall 30 Squadron, Iraq - interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'
SQDN-LDR. KENDALL 30 Squadron, Iraq

SQDN-LDR. KENDALL 30 Squadron, Iraq: You can identify them quite easily and if they're not erm villagers carrying on with their normal business and they're carrying arms then they ought not to be and er if they were doing something you could see that they ought not to be doing then you then you shot them.

WING-CDR. GALE 30 Squadron, Iraq - interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'
WING-CDR. GALE 30 Squadron, Iraq

WING-CDR. GALE 30 Squadron, Iraq: I was in the RAF. I had a job to do. My loyalty was to my commanding officer who gave me my orders. If the Kurds hadn't learned by our ecph example to behave themselves in a civilised way then we had to spank their bottoms and this was done by bombs and guns.

NARRATOR: One junior officer involved was wing commander Arthur Harris, later famous as head of war time bomber command. In 1924 he wrote of these operations

The Arab and Kurd now know what real bombing means in casualties and damage. Within 45 minutes a full sized village can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured by four or five machines.

SUBTITLES: Were people afraid of the air raids?

Speaker #4 interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'
Speaker #4

SUBTITLES UNDER A NEW SPEAKER, #4: Of course. people are not made of iron Some sheltered in these mountains others fled with their families and hid until the evening when they returned There were air raids three times a day Too many times.

Speaker #3 - interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'
Speaker #3

SUBTITLES UNDER PREVIOUSLY SEEN SPEAKER #3: You're talking about hardship? Imagine if you and your family had to hide under a rock or in a cave Would you have a good time? You screwed our mothers!

NARRATOR: The RAF was sent to Iraq as a result of the breakup of the Ottoman empire at the end of the first world war. Britain and France were given mandates to rule Turkey's former territories. France was given control of modern day Syria and Lebanon and Britain was given Iraq, Jordan and Palestine. Not everyone living in the middle east was content to exchange one empire for another. The Kurds, a people with their own language and culture, pressed for independence. But unfortunately for them, oil had been discovered in large quantities in Kurdish territory around the city of Kirkuk. The British wanted to keep these reserves under their control. They feared that an independent Kurdistan might use its oil wealth to threaten British power in the middle east. So they joined Kurdistan with two other provinces to invent a new country Iraq. Many Kurds objected to this arrangement. Ahmed Hodger was a leading figure in the Kurdish independence movement

Speaker #5 - interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'
Speaker #5

SUBTITLES UNDER A NEW SPEAKER, #5 We served the English well We offered them our hospitality Sheik Mahmud himself invited them into his home We were hoping for so much But in return, they gave the oil of Kirkuk to the Iraqi government They created one single large state of Iraq from north to south... ... and they denied us the rights they had promised We put too much trust into Britain's promises We believed they would stick to them

NARRATOR: Led by Sheik Mahmud the kurds rose in rebellion. Just after the end of the great war, Britain was faced with the huge cost of sending troops to hold together the new state of Iraq. The Kurdish rebellion was a major crisis for the government in London The minister responsible for Iraq was Winston Churchill in 1921 he called a middle east conference in Cairo to discuss the situation. Among those invited was Lawrence of Arabia. The main problem was casualties. After the carnage of the great war, Churchill was extremely reluctant to risk thousands of British lives for Iraq, a country about which most Britons cared little. The answer to this crisis came from the RAF. The chief of the air staff, sir Hugh Trenchard, persuaded Churchill to adopt a revolutionary scheme. He proposed sending RAF bomber squadrons to crush the rebellion from the air. The bombers would be cheap and there would be few British casualties.

SQDN-LDR. KENDALL 30 Squadron, Iraq: Churchill was the air minister at that time and it was a question of whether erm that the country at that time could afford to keep the the standing army that we had in Iraq I think it amounted something like about er thirteen battalions of infantry, er god knows how many battalions of artillery and the air force, Trenchard er told Churchill that he thought that he could take over the responsibility of running the country and they could bring the army completely out of it and therefore save a lot of money because I think at that time there was a great deal of thought in in the country that we wanted to get to hell out of it and let the Arabs get on with it.

WING-CDR. LEWIS 30 Squadron, Iraq: We were pretty well bankrupt after the first world war but we had plenty of aircraft and lot of keen young pilots still keen to fly. So they decided to try instead of setting [? unclear] an occupation force which means a crowd of troops on the ground they decided to hand over the whole of the running of Iraq with the RAF.

NARRATOR: The air ministry in London regarded RAF operations in Kurdistan as an excellent training ground. New weapons were developed for use in the area amongst them the forerunners of napalm and air to ground missiles. The ministry drew up a list of possible weapons phosphorus bombs war rockets metal crows feet to maim livestock man killing shrapnel, liquid fire and delay-action bombs. Many of these weapons were first put into use by the RAF in Kurdistan.

Air ministry list as seen in documentary 'Birds of Death'
Air ministry list

TEXT ON SCREEN: "phosphorus bombs, war rockets, metal crows feet, man-killing shrapnel, liquid fire and delay-action bombs."

WING-CDR. LEWIS 30 Squadron, Iraq: As soon as they knew we were coming over to bomb they went up the hills and sat in their caves well ah we got to know this so eventually what they did was to drop delay action bombs so that they'd have a 24 hour delay on a on a 112 pound bomb so the natives sort of having cleared off out of the village during the bombing would eventually return and possibly be holding a pow wow sitting on the actual bomb when up it went you see and took a few with em. [chuckling]

NARRATOR: In the bombing the RAF drew little distinction between civilians and combatants. Bombs dropped on a town could kill innocent civilians as easily as rebel tribesman.

Speaker #6 interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'
Speaker #6

SUBTITLES UNDER A NEW SPEAKER, #6: A pregnant woman was hit. Her baby was torn out of her and thrown away A friend who was studying the koran with me was also killed. I was lucky, it wasn't my time to die I ran to the mosque. I wasn't hit but my neighbour was wounded. Other people were killed

NARRATOR: Senior RAF officers believed that by destroying villages and creating refugees pressure would be put on the rebels to make peace. One squadron leader wrote of the tactics driven from his village the tribesman is stripped at a blow of all that makes life tolerable. If to the deprivation of all the necessities of life is added exposure to rain and cold it would appreciated that air operations conducted in the winter and spring have the maximum in moral and physical effect on Kurdish tribes.

SUBTITLES UNDER PREVIOUSLY SEEN SPEAKER #6: A lot of people died of hunger People were desperate ...especially the elderly, the old women It was very hard some people could only get one piece of bread a day There was no food.

NARRATOR: In spite the hardships involved, the Kurds continued their rebellion the city of Sulaymanya, recently one of the centres of the Kurdish uprising against Saddam Hussein, was also the headquarters of sheik mahmud's rebellion in the 1920s. The British were increasingly frustrated by mahmud's success. This air ministry memo details the situation. Conditions in the Sulaymanya area remain unsatisfactory. Sheik mahmud persists in his disobedience of government orders. The people of Sulaymanya have been notified that as a result of the above, Sulaymanya will be bombed. Aircraft were then sent to drop leaflets over the city warning the population that the RAF was about to bomb it. But with no experience of air raids, few people took any notice.

Words from a British air ministry memo shown in the documentary 'Birds of Death' include 'Sulymanyeh will be bombed'.

TEXT ON SCREEN: "Conditions in the Suleymanyeh remain unsatisfactory. Sheik Mahmud persists in his disobedience of Government orders. The people of Suleymanyeh have been notified that as a result of the above, Suleymanyeh will be bombed."

Speaker #7 - interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'
Speaker #7

SUBTITLES UNDER A NEW SPEAKER, #7: We were children. When the bombers came we were sleeping on the balcony We saw the bombing begin. A piece of shrapnel fell in a garden nearby We all ran from one alleyway to another In one street there was a man who had been killed by a bomb My cousin said "My god there's Sheik Tayib Arif" But someone else said "No he's older" a little further on a woman who had been throwing out some rubbish ... was hit by a bomb and killed. We were really afraid We ran away barefoot... ...just looking for somewhere to hide ourselves.

Speaker #8 - interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'
Speaker #8

SUBTITLES UNDER A NEW SPEAKER, #8: Every family suffered a loss Haji Sarafu, Shali's wife was killed another woman was hit next door I went and had a look at her Her face was torn into pieces, her hands were cut off She was moving her hands like this Her leg was also cut off I wasn't frightened. I stayed with her until she died.

SUBTITLES UNDER PREVIOUSLY SEEN SPEAKER, #7: We entered the city when it was dark We had baths, baked bread and ate only at night. We were scared to do anything by day, and only worked during the night

NARRATOR: Like most of the population, Sheik Fatalah was staying in Sulaymanya at night. One morning he was surprised by a dawn air raid.

Speaker #8 - interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'
Speaker #8

SUBTITLES UNDER PREVIOUSLY SEEN SPEAKER, #8 - PRESUMABLY SHEIK FATALAH: When I came out, I was told the bombing had started I went to the front door... ...and saw a plane over what is now called Maza-Khana The plane was coming like this ...and Izzat Beg's house as near as I am sitting now the planes came like that and one of them dropped a bomb The bomb came as fast as the plane The house was two floors high The bomb entered the house... ...and the landing collapsed even before the bomb exploded The wooden ceiling fell behind me I couldn't run away and I found myself trapped under the rubble The planes disappeared, but it took an hour before people came I shouted that I was still alive and to get me out of the rubble They started digging with shovels As they were clearing the rubble... ...one of them hit my pelvis and broke it there As a result of that, I've been like this for 69 years

[This transcript is missing some material at this point. There is a break for advertisements at this point.]

NARRATOR: [unknown amount missing] king feisal runs effectively throughout Iraq it is entirely due British aeroplanes. If the aeroplanes were removed tomorrow the whole structure would inevitably fall to pieces. Yet the success could not hide some misgivings at the methods involved. The disturbing report reached Churchill of an incident where British pilots had machine gunned women and children. In response Churchill wrote to Trenchard - To fire wilfully on women and children is a disgraceful act. I am surprised that you did not order the officers responsible to be tried by court marshal. By doing such things we put ourselves on the lowest level. In spite of Churchill's intervention, no action was taken. In fact Trenchard took steps to censor reports before they reached his political masters. The documents proving this censorship were kept hidden by official secrecy for fifty years. In one letter Trenchard instructed his commander in Iraq not to report tonnage of bombs dropped or casualties caused as the news that two tons of bombs have been dropped on some little village daily might give a wrong sense of proportion at home.

subtitles: as the news 'that two tonnes of bombs have been dropped on some little village daily'... might give 'a wrong sense of proportion at home'
Trenchard's words

TEXT ON SCREEN: as the news "that two tonnes of bombs have been dropped on some little village daily"... might give "a wrong sense of proportion at home"

NARRATOR: In another letter the air council asked for a report to be censored on the grounds that if this report as it stands were to get into the hands of undesirable people harm might be done not only to the air force but also to his majesty's government. How ever operational reports were censored back home there was no avoiding the disquiet of many of the pilots ordered to carry out the bombing.

WING-CDR. GALE 30 Squadron, Iraq: My pilot was a flying officer macneil we flew to barzan and commenced bombing runs and machine gun attack. While macneil only having a wireless operator behind him took practically no action but just flew round the battlefield looking at it and then flew off erm to find out what was er what support or reinforcements there might be further back. Erm we flew into the hills there - they were very close of course - erm and eventually found a cu a poor Kurd struggling up a mountainside with a donkey.

NARRATOR: Gale's pilot macneil fired a burst of machine gun fire at the Kurd

WING-CDR. GALE 30 Squadron, Iraq: My reaction was this. I had already spent er some years living with the kurds at Halejer I lived right in the town with the Kurds all round me and I used to walk out and leave the doors open and everything else and they they virtually thought they were looking after me. And when macneil had put his burst down I was bloody annoyed.

SQDN-LDR. KENDALL 30 Squadron, Iraq: You know when things get a little bit upset you do get a bit tight and it it feels good to sort of let go with a gun it's a feeling perhaps it comes over you I've experienced it it's not erm something that you want to do its just you get carried away i suppose a bit and er there you are.

INTERVIEWER: What sort of discussions did you have when you talked about it?

SQDN-LDR. KENDALL 30 Squadron, Iraq: How many? Did you kill anybody? Do you think? Did you like it? You didn't? And discussion about the Kurds because previously you might have been out and had a tea party with them somewhere in one of their villages. They're not unfriendly people.

WING-CDR. LEWIS 30 Squadron, Iraq: They were much more jovial when you spoke to them and er to my way of thinking on a higher plane than the average Iraqi from the plains. Er it was quite a joy to go up through the mountains and call into the various Kurdish villages built in the side of the hills where they always supplied you with some tea and fruit and where you were always very welcome so that on those grounds alone we had far more respect for the Kurd than we did for the Iraqi.

WING-CDR. GALE 30 Squadron, Iraq: They had some very fine principles which they lived by and we should have been encouraging the the Kurds rather than siding with the gutter rats who were the Arabs and they were gutter rats.

SQDN-LDR. KENDALL 30 Squadron, Iraq: I think there's a lot of feeling were we doing the right thing in in what we were doing er in the operations that were taking place we were ordered to do it and it was a job of work but erm in view of what everybody knew er did you feel really justified apart from the time when you were fired on or perhaps you thought your life your own life was in danger and you thought you ought you kno you had to take some action to do something about it But er I I never met anybody really that er enjoyed killing Kurds. I don't feel good about it. I still sort of read er and know what's going on and I don't like it. Not one little bit. I think mostly what is it political expediency.

NARRATOR: Politicians in Britain saw the experiment with air power in Iraq as an unqualified success. At a time of defence cuts and economic decline the government regarded bombing as a cheap way of keeping control over the more rebellious frontiers of British rule.

During the 1930s bombers were sent to the Sudan, Egypt, Aden and most importantly the north west frontier of India. The mountains of Waziristan are one of the most remote and inaccessible areas of Asia. Once the north west frontier of India, this province is now a part of Pakistan. Every spring and autumn, nomads pass through. Sixty years ago, Waziristan was ruled by the British. Long after the pacification of the rest of India, the frontier remained unruly and war-like. The hills are still dotted with colonial forts reminders of three wars against Afghanistan and countless tribal skirmishes.

During the raj these forts were home to regiments of the British Indian army, locally recruited soldiers commanded by British officers. Life on the frontier in the 1930s had changed little since the Victorian era. Inside the mess, officers lived a life of ease and tradition. When called into action, the Indian army fought a bloody guerrilla war against rebel tribesmen. As a young subaltern brigadier Prendergast won a military cross for bravery on the frontier.

BRIGADIER Prendergast D.S.O. M.C. Punjab Regiment interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'

BRIGADIER PRENDERGAST D.S.O. M.C. Punjab Regiment: It was extremely difficult area to control because it was inhabited by warlike tribesmen who had rifles and er exe excellent guerrillas fighting in country they knew. They knew every track and hillside and they were adept at fighting at a guerrilla action. They were capable of any form of mayhem they used to raid down into the settled districts and loot and murder. They also attacked convoys and erm fought among themselves a good deal too. The British tried to keep order. It was a system of stick and carrot. The tribal leaders were rewarded with money for keeping the peace. But if they didn't keep the peace ermm then out came the stick.

NARRATOR: In 1935 fanned by unrest elsewhere in India, the tribes of the frontier were edging into outright rebellion. The army became heavily engaged fighting with the tribesmen. Back in London the situation on the frontier raised the usual questions of cost and casualties. The air ministry was keen for the RAF to take an active role in suppressing the rebellion. But the political climate had changed since the 1920s. In particular the critics of RAF bombing had gained ground. When the subject was debated in the house of lords, it was strongly attacked by peers of all parties One leading critic was lord Plumer a former high commissioner for Palestine. If applied against the civil population taking the form of destruction of villages and habitations it is I consider a mischievous power. To my certain knowledge the memories of those bombings will not be easily effaced. It nearly always happens that in these cases women and children are killed or wounded.

To counter criticism that bombing was uncivilised and unbritish the RAF was forced to use more humane tactics. The main change was in the use of warning leaflets In Iraq in the 1920s leaflets had sometimes been dropped but were not always considered necessary. But by 1936 bombing of tribal villages was forbidden unless warning had been given. In practice once the leaflets had been dropped the tactics remained the same as in Iraq. Aircraft were sent out to bomb and strafe villages. Many pilots took along home movie cameras to record the action the source of this rare archive film.

Air Vice-Marshal Dudgeon C.B.E. D.F.C.  - interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'

AIR VICE-MARSHAL DUDGEON C.B.E. D.F.C.: The procedure for a bombing raid it started at dawn and we nearly always bombed in threes cause don't forget we had no radio no radar nothing - all done by hand signals. And then we would bomb from six thousand feet and the outside aeroplanes when they saw my bomb drop would drop their bombs too and the three bombs would go down to land in the village and then we'd swing round, right round, and come back and see the dust clouds and things how good it really was. And that would go on all day about oh ton and a half to two tons of bombs per flight and we were normally operating three flights so you'd get about ten tons of bombs down during the day which was enough to do quite a lot of damage in a small village. Leaflets were dropped. They were given three or four days warning. Nobody got killed but the village was destroyed. Yes it did cause hardship and they knew it was coming they knew what it was but they were being bloody minded and they weren't gonna kow tow to anybody but usually after the village had gone they realise that the game wasn't worth the candle and so we got peace without loss of life.

[break for adverts]

NARRATOR: The northwest frontier has changed little since the 1930s. To find out the effect of the RAF bombing we went to Waziristan to find people who remember the raids. The air ministry maintained that because of the leaflets the bombing caused no casualties. But was this always the case?

Speaker #9 interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'
Speaker #9

SUBTITLES UNDER A NEW SPEAKER, #9: Some people were told by the government ...that the bombing was taking place Only a few people - the head men of the area... ...were told about the bombing That was one of the reasons why we took the brunt of it Many people were killed in the mountains because they hadn't been told

NARRATOR: Even when people did receive warning of air raids they didn't always leave their villages. Some members of the family stayed behind to guard the homes and look after livestock.

Speaker #10 interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'
Speaker #10

SUBTITLES UNDER A NEW SPEAKER, #10: Not everyone knew about the bombing. We were scattered over a large area The three villages of Betani were bombed because the Betanis were resisting the British And so they were the ones who were bombed In our area there was a village called Darklay A man there - a stranger to our land - was killed by a bomb In our village, when the bombs came between 60 and 80 sheep were killed by machine guns The bombing also killed some calves and our camel During the raid, a bomb hit our house and my mother died

Speaker #11 - interviewee in documentary 'Birds of Death'
Speaker #11

SUBTITLES UNDER A NEW SPEAKER, #11: I was on my way from Sharin ...when about 11 shots were fired at me from the air I was hit three times in the back. They were also bombing in the area in Mazdek A piece of shrapnel flew past me It was a near miss.

SUBTITLES UNDER PREVIOUSLY SEEN SPEAKER #10: when they saw five or six people in a group ...the government used to order its planes to shoot them It was assumed they were rebels and they would bomb them

Speaker #12 - interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'
Speaker #12

SUBTITLES UNDER A NEW SPEAKER, #12: When we saw the aeroplanes appear without warning in the sky... ...we would hide in caves, gorges, in the undergrowth and wherever we could find shelter Some dug trenches and hid in them

SUBTITLES: How did you use the caves during the bombing?

SUBTITLES UNDER SPEAKER #12: When we heard the noise of the plane... ...we rushed into these caves to take shelter We sat at the mouth of the cave, a gun in our hands, watching the plane We aimed at it, and fired

NARRATOR: Once the tribes people learned the pattern of the British bombing they began to return to their damaged villages at night. To prevent this, the RAF began a series of night raids.

Speaker #13 interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'
Speaker #13

SUBTITLES UNDER A NEW SPEAKER, #13: The bombings took place in winter. That was hard There was snow, and our families suffered from the severe cold We were forced to leave our villages ...and spend the night in the forest You can imagine how difficult it was for us and our families

Speaker #14 - interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'
Speaker #14

SUBTITLES UNDER A NEW SPEAKER, #14: We had to leave most of the food behind in the villages Many people died of hunger People had to leave their homes at night... and that wasn't easy Especially for the elderly, the women and children Some of them died on the way to the mountains Many children died... ...due to the cold and the harsh weather People faced many difficulties. Hunger was a big problem The food we had was only enough to last us for two or three days The children suffered the most The difficulties were limitless for everyone The hardship went on for years

Speaker #9 - interviewed in documentary 'Birds of Death'
Speaker #9

SUBTITLES UNDER PREVIOUSLY SEEN SPEAKER #9: To understand what we had to put up with ...think of Kuwait and the problems they faced. Their oil was burned Our livestock was killed, our homes and our crops destroyed When you don't have a home... .. how can you farm and look after your livestock?

AIR VICE-MARSHAL DUDGEON C.B.E. D.F.C.: The reason the raids went on for two or three days was to be sure that you had knocked down virtually every building in the village. Now the buildings were built of mud brick and they had fighting towers that were solid material up to the second storey and they would take a remarkable amount of damage before they actually fell down and very easy to rebuild unless they were laid down flat. So we went on until they were virtually unrepairable - mud bricks little bit of water pack em in and you've got your building back up again so that had to be stopped to make thing worthwhile. Once you're going to do it, do it properly.

NARRATOR: As the technology of bombing improved the RAF were able to do more and more damage. one town called Shirani was singled out for retaliatory bombing after rebels killed an Englishman.

GROUP CAPTAIN NEWALL 60 Bomber Squadron, India: Shirani was a big town, very close to the afghan frontier. They done had something rather awful to an English officer which they who who had they who they had captured and erm so it was decided to erm really take it to pieces. Every squadron on the frontier bombers and army cooperation and bomber transport put in two attacks per day and erm there was not much left of it by the time we'd finished after four days.

NARRATOR: The bombing of villages was opposed by many soldiers stationed on the frontier. They believed it was unfair to make women and children suffer for the actions of their men folk.

COLONEL VENNING O.B.E. M.C. Touchi Scouts: The idea o of dropping a bomb o on a [unclear word] tribesman from a great height and it was very unlikely that he could stop the airplane from flying over er it it seems to me an unpleasant way of doing things and its much better that you had irregular troops pashtun speaking troops walking about on the ground talking to people and discussing their problems with them.

BRIGADIER PRENDERGAST D.S.O. M.C. Punjab Regiment: Where the women and children were allowed to get out in good time that might salve a good many consciences but we didn't like it very much there was a sort of man to man feeling between us and the tribesman aer in a funny way it was sort of a game of cricket with blood aa and meeting these tribesman ar afterwards on convoys or on on journey one reminiscence over over these actions an and it was fairly rather like talking about a cricket season. We uh there was a great fellowship between the er British and the tribesman he was a manly type. Err had a great sense of humour too.

COLONEL VENNING O.B.E. M.C. Touchi Scouts: To rule a country by saying we're going to bomb the daylights out of your village seems to me a huh very unjust way of of doing it. as a last resort uh OK if a particular tribe continues to raid town townships of banu [?] and that kind of thing either they must come in and say erm sorry we won't do it any more or you should go about it in in a erm erm a more man to man way. But to drop large quantities of high explosives on them w yo kn a thing they could not really retaliate over seems to me a a very improper not not just unsporting but highly improper way of running a country.

NARRATOR: The practical value of the bombing was also debatable. The destruction of their homes made the rebel tribesmen even more hostile to British rule.

SUBTITLES UNDER PREVIOUSLY SEEN SPEAKER #11: We have faith in God He give us patience At a time of fighting... ...it is important for us Pathans to be strong Pathans never cry. Not like Punjabis or people from other tribes The more you irritate a Pathan, the angrier he becomes The bombing didn't frighten us. A Pathan is strong in times of difficulty... ...has patience and is never driven to despair

NARRATOR: Unable to shoot down aircraft, the tribesmen waited for an opportunity to avenge themselves on the British. In 1936 the RAF bombed a village in central Waziristan, killing two sons of the head man.

SUBTITLES UNDER A NEW SPEAKER, #15: We decided we should take revenge... ...on behalf of our two boys killed in the bombing Then another person was killed on this road... ...not by a bomb... ...but by an army truck After this incident, we moved with our families to Shoga in Betani and then to Massoud in Waziristan

NARRATOR: On the a large convoy left Jandola in southern Waziristan. That morning intelligence had been received that hostile tribesmen were massing in the hills. But against the advice of the political agent, the convoy did not turn back.

SUBTITLES UNDER PREVIOUSLY SEEN SPEAKER #15: When we saw the trucks, we shouted to our men to roll stones on the road They did this and managed to stop the leading truck At the same time we started firing Nobody was left alive [pictures of many very plain gravestones, including one "9-4-37" another "11-3-37".]

NARRATOR: Over 80 servicemen were killed at shakwir tangi the biggest single loss of british life during the Waziristan rebellion. after the massacre RAF bombers were sent out to retaliate by destroying villages. Many surviving pilots argue that without the fear of retaliatory bombing there would have been even more bloodshed on the frontier. The only thing which stopped the cycle of bombing and rebellion in Waziristan was the outbreak of another war in Europe. By 1940 all that lay between Britain and defeat by Germany was the RAF. To reinforce the over stretched squadrons at home every available plane and pilot was recalled from the outposts of the empire. With hindsight it is clear that the training provided to the RAF on the frontier was invaluable. The men who had flown in colonial operations went on to form the backbone of war time bomber command. But it is little comfort to the people of Waziristan that their remote villages provided valuable pre-war target practice for the RAF.

SUBTITLES UNDER PREVIOUSLY SEEN SPEAKER #14: We resent it to this day Our livestock was destroyed Our children our women were killed The British never did anything good for us They only created havoc and distress how can we say it was good? It was the worst thing the British could have done to us

Credits from the screen

Mark Strasburg
Film ResearcherTORIA RUSSELL
Production CoordinatorHELENA ELY
Production ManagerLIN BROWN
Assistant ProducerCHARLIE SMITH
Executive ProducerALEX GRAHAM

Channel Four, MCMXCII