In 1942 half a million people left their homes to walk hundreds of miles to safety in India as the British Army in Burma crumbled before the Japanese onslaught. They suffered appalling hardship along the route, and tens of thousands of them perished, although the exact number will never be known. Among them were 50,000 British civilians - the only time in recent history that British people have experienced what it is to be a refugee. It is astonishing that this story has been forgotten.
As an amateur historian whose grandfather was one of the unfortunates of the Burma Trek I have done a fair amount of research on the subject, and this is the book I have been waiting for. There is simply nothing else published that tells this incredible story from the viewpoint of the refugees themselves, as most focus on the military retreat and subsequent recapture of Burma.
Felicity Goodall has done a tremendous job in pulling together the many strands to weave a compelling account of the Exodus from Burma. She paints a lovely picture of life in the "Golden Land" of pre-War Burma using the accounts of people we follow in the pages to come. Burma's crisis starts with the bombing of Rangoon on Christmas Day 1941, and we follow the refugees as they flee west and north to avoid the invaders. The lucky ones get out by boat and plane, but once these routes are blocked the remainder have no choice but to brave the 300 mile route through the uncharted jungles of the Burma-India border on foot. As the monsoon starts the northernmost route through the Hukawng Valley lives up to its reputation as the Jungle of Death.
The book is a pleasure to read - well-structured and illustrated throughout with photos both old and recent. The author has clearly done an enormous amount of research in the archives to unearth some amazing unpublished accounts and reports from the time. She has also visited Burma to see the significant places for herself.
If you know nothing about the Burma Trek then this is the place to start. If you already know a fair bit then I guarantee you will learn things you didn't know. I was fascinated to find out the fate of the Chinese soldiers who fled west rather than back to China.
I hope this book will help to make this unjustly forgotten story more widely known.