Podcast Episode 299: Ursula Graham Bower and the Nagas

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1937, Englishwoman Ursula Graham Bower became fascinated by the Naga people of northeastern India. She was living among them when World War II broke out and Japan threatened to invade their land. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Bower’s efforts to organize the Nagas against an unprecedented foe.

We’ll also consider a self-censoring font and puzzle over some perplexing spacecraft.


In 1822 the Yorkshire Observer published the schedule of a bachelor’s life.

In 1988 philosopher Edward J. Gracely offered a dilemma regarding a flight from hell.

Sources for our feature on Ursula Graham Bower:

Vicky Thomas, Naga Queen: Ursula Graham Bower and Her Jungle Warriors 1939-45, 2011.

Ursula Graham Bower, Naga Path, 1950.

Christopher Alan Bayly and Timothy Norman Harper, Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941-1945, 2005.

Nicholas van der Bijl, Sharing the Secret: The History of the Intelligence Corps 1940–2010, 2013.

Montgomery McFate, Military Anthropology: Soldiers, Scholars and Subjects at the Margins of Empire, 2018.

Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes and Heather Norris Nicholson, British Women Amateur Filmmakers, 2018.

Alex Lubin, Romance and Rights: The Politics of Interracial Intimacy, 1945-1954, 2009.

Margaret MacMillan, History’s People: Personalities and the Past, 2015.

Andrew Jackson Waskey, “Bower, Ursula Graham,” in Bernard A. Cook, ed., Women and War: A Historical Encyclopedia From Antiquity to the Present, 2006.

Paul Cheeseright, “Queen Without a Throne: Ursula Graham Bower and the Burma Campaign,” Asian Affairs 45:2 (June 2014), 289-299.

Ajailiu Niumai, “Rani Gaidinliu: The Iconic Woman of Northeast India,” Indian Journal of Gender Studies 25:3 (August 2018), 351-367.

Stuart Blackburn, “Colonial Contact in the ‘Hidden Land’: Oral History Among the Apatanis of Arunachal Pradesh,” Indian Economic & Social History Review 40:3 (October 2003), 335-365.

Charles Allen, “Spirit of Roedean,” Spectator, April 14, 2012.

dipanita nath, “Woman Who Came in From the Wild,” Indian Express, Aug. 12, 2017.

Esha Roy, “My Mother, The Naga Warrior,” Indian Express, Oct. 27, 2013.

Ved Mohendra, “A Bloody Battle to Remember,” [Kuala Lumpur] New Straits Times, June 28, 2014, 16.

“Rays of a New Dawn in Nagaland,” Assam Tribune, Nov. 26, 2012.

Mary Johnson Tweedy, “A Troubled, Far-Off Land,” New York Times, Oct. 18, 1953.

“Blond Englishwoman, Naga Queen, Helped Fight Japs,” Wilmington [N.C.] Morning Star, Dec. 8, 1944, 14.

Melissa van der Klugt, “Warrior Queen Ursula Graham Bower’s Is Staged for Her Tribal Comrades,” Sunday Times, Dec. 30, 2017.

Neha Kirpal, “Ursula the ‘Jungle Queen’: The Extraordinary Story of the Englishwoman Who Led Naga Soldiers in WWII,” Scroll, Jan. 10, 2018.

“The Nagas: Hill Peoples of Northeast India,” Cambridge Experimental Videodisc Project.

Martin Gienke, “Film Interviews With Leading Thinkers: Ursula Graham Bower,” University of Cambridge, Nov. 4, 1985.

“Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood,” Supplement to the London Gazette, April 20, 1945, 2166.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, “Sydney Harbour Bridge” (accessed June 4, 2020).

Sydney Harbour Bridge coat hanger.

“A Short History of the Sydney Harbour Bridge,” New South Wales Government (accessed June 4, 2020).

Damien Murphy, “Sydney Harbour Bridge Celebrates 85th Anniversary,” Sydney Morning Herald, March 16, 2017.

Scunthorpe Sans.

Alex Hern, “Anti-Porn Filters Stop Dominic Cummings Trending on Twitter,” Guardian, May 27, 2020.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Jeremy Vander Munnik. Here’s an (intermittently!) corroborating link.

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!