Force 136 in British Ceylon during World War II and the Film “Bridge on the River Kwai”

Tony Donaldson

I read the piece entitled “Travails in Filming “The Bridge on the River Kwai” … and The Locations” a few days ago and found it very interesting. I like this stuff about films in Ceylon in the 1950s and 60s so keep posting relevant material. It’s a topic worth exploring more.

William Holden & Chandran Rutnam during the shooting of the Film

Another location used in the Bridge on the River Kwai film was the Riverdale Bungalow. There is a scene in which “Shears” (played by William Holden) is walking through the Botanical Gardens during a Force 136 training operation and gets caught up in it when he is attacked and thrown to the ground. The training officer apologizes and leads him on to a path to meet his Force 136 contact, and this scene cuts to a path at the top of a ridge looking down to the Mahaweli River and we see Shears walking into the Riverdale Bungalow for a meeting, which of course is not in the Botanical Gardens. The bungalow is still there today in pretty much the same condition as it was in the film and when it was used by Force 136 during WW2. The scene in which Shears is with the girl on the beach was filmed at the Mt Lavinia Hotel which was also a Force 136 site in WW2.

When Force 136 Group ‘B’ was set up in Ceylon in January 1943, its head Christopher Hudson moved into the Galle Face Hotel. But he soon moved out of the hotel because the then C-in-C Admiral Geoffrey Layton didn’t like the SOE operating in Ceylon and was obstructing Hudson’s activities. To rectify this, Hudson moved his HQ out of Colombo into a bungalow in Mt Lavinia which is now the Mt Lavinia Hotel, which he shared with another Force 136 officer named Tremlett who had been a Special Branch Officer in Singapore before the war working in their political section. Tremlett was killed in October 1945 while travelling in a Dakota from Malaya to Ceylon which crashed in the Indian Ocean. This was around the time Force 136 was relocating from Ceylon to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore following the Japanese surrender.

  Chris Hudson, Head of Force 136 Group ‘B’

 Major F. I. Tremlett

Around this time (1943), a Malay named Abdul Kadir visited India and Ceylon enroute to Mecca where he recruited about 20-30 Malay agents for training in Ceylon – a story for another occasion.

I find it interesting that David Lean managed to identify some of the sites used by Force 136 in the 1950s and used them in the film which gives a sense of reality to it. One reason why Ceylon appealed to Force 136 as a training centre was that the jungle conditions in Ceylon were similar to Malaya (not easy to find in India) so it was a suitable location place to train agents before sending them off into Malaya or other occupied territories in Southeast Asia.

A Postscript inserted by Thuppahi:

VISIT A Fascinating Story of the Place of British Ceylon in the Tale of Wartime Battles agianst the Japanese forces …

“Sri Lankan Military Taless” composed by Kumar Kirinde at


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One response to “Force 136 in British Ceylon during World War II and the Film “Bridge on the River Kwai”

  1. Mohan de Alwis Edrisinha

    No mention of Gamini Fonseka who played a major role in theproduction and technical part of Bridge over the river Kwai

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