World War II American Soldiers and a Bengali Child [Photographs]
These photographs are among a series of fifteen taken in 1945 by U.S. soldier Glenn S. Hensley. Hensley was a professional photographer participating in aerial surveillance of Burma for the U.S. Army. The images illustrate an encounter between Hensley and four fellow U.S. airmen with the residents of the village of Kharagpur, West Bengal. Some of the photographs have significant annotations that reveal how they and the people they encountered felt about their interactions. The airmen had access to darkroom facilities, so they were able to show the results of the encounter to Mukta and her father, whom they report as being very proud. The response of the other villagers is shown in their gathering at the scene. The collection of nearly 600 photographs and notes were prepared by Hensley for his wife to use in teaching world history courses in Missouri during World War II.
Glenn S. Hensley, "New Sari," http://dsal.uchicago.edu/images/hensley/hensley_search.html?depth=details&id=k006; "New Sari," http://dsal.uchicago.edu/images/hensley/hensley_search.html?depth=details&id=k008; "Mukhta and father," http://dsal.uchicago.edu/images/hensley/hensley_search.html?depth=details&id=k009, Digital South Asia Library (accessed June 3, 2009).
Primary Source Text
The annotations by U.S. soldier and photographer Glenn S. Hensley tell the story of a girl he knew as "Mukhta." "Several friends and myself noticed her choking back tears as she sat near the road between the air base and Khragupur. . . We asked her about her problem and in fairly good English, she showed us the stub of a broken comb. She had fallen and smashed one of her most cherished items, her comb. She was wearing only a loin cloth. While in town that day, we decided to buy Mukta a comb. . . On the way back to the base, we saw her again and presented her with the new comb. Then, her charm and personality began to glow. Her dimpled smile and older-than-her age conversation plus profuse thanks captured our hearts. She made a good photo model, too, as she climbed onto a nearby log and began to work with her long, black hair."
The encounter continued: ". . . the next time we saw Mukta. We decided she needed more than a loin cloth, so next time-we were in we bought her a brightly-colored, child-sized saree. That afternoon, she met us as we had asked and she was given the package containing her new clothes. What happened is illustrated. She hurriedly opens the package and quickly drapes herself with the garment. "The next photograph in the series "shows Mukta, surrounded by her friends just after she has donned the new saree. The American is Noel Hepp, Troy, NY. Behind Mukta, her father proudly shows an enlargement we had made of Mukta wearing only the loin cloth and combing her hair. Many crowd around to see."
How to Cite This Source
"World War II American Soldiers and a Bengali Child [Photographs]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #299, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/299 (accessed May 22, 2015). Annotated by Susan Douglass