The story of the Chindit operations in occupied Burma is a breath taking tale of unbelievable human achievement under impossible conditions which, in terms of sheer human endurance and courage, are widely regarded as the toughest sustained combat operations of the Second World War. Yet the previous published accounts have not tended to focus on the men who were the Chindits but rather on their unconventional, somewhat controversial leader Major General Orde Wingate; on the credibility and strategic success or otherwise of the operations and on whether or not the Chindit operations wasted resources at a time when they were much needed elsewhere.
For the first time War in the Wilderness tells the human story of the Chindits in riveting, energy-sapping detail. Tony Redding's narrative is a model of clarity and conciseness and is enriched immeasurably by the vivid and often harrowing experiences of around fifty veteran Chindits who were interviewed by the author. The book is well illustrated with clear and helpful maps and both official and, previously unpublished, private photographs. This very balanced and readable account is richly laced with the names and experiences of those who took part in the operations and includes a useful appendix listing all who received honours and awards, which includes the four Chindit VC winners.
In his account of Number 5 Column in the 1943 Chindit operation "Beyond the Chindwin" (Collins 1945) Brigadier Bernard Ferguson remarks "to those who took part in it, the Wingate expedition was a watershed in their lives. Before it, one's appreciation of values was only half developed. Now we have new standards and new touchstones." On every page of War in the Wilderness there is abundant evidence of how and why this should be so, indeed Tony Redding continues the fascinating story of the surviving Chindits to the present day and with attitudes, self-reliance and friendships forged in extreme adversity, it is clear that they remain Chindits for the rest of their days and why The Chindit's Old Comrades Association has declared that it will only close when the last member dies.
The men who took part were neither specially selected nor volunteers but rather they were ordinary soldiers, a few experienced regulars but the majority relatively inexperienced territorial's and wartime only men drawn from across the British Army, including Gurkhas. This is the story of how many of these men marched one thousand miles across impenetrable country, carrying half their bodyweight, with little hope of survival if left behind. How almost half became casualties and almost all who survived were hospitalised on return and yet how ordinary, highly motivated men effectively trained and led can accomplish the impossible.
The son of a Chindit who served with 2nd King's Own in 111 Brigade, Tony Redding is very well placed to tell this story with a sensitivity, a passion and an eye for detail. This book should be on the shelves of all with an interest in the Chindit operations and the Burma campaign generally and of all concerned with the strength of the human spirit to overcome extreme diversity. There are lessons here of direct relevance to the art of leadership and conduct of deep penetration operations in the present day and, such is the way in which this inspirational somewhat haunting, human story is told, War in the Wilderness it is one of those rare books which, once started, is very difficult to put down.