on 9 January 2006
This book deserves 5 stars because it is one of the very best of its kind. It is a soldier's memoir but what sets it apart is how vividly the writing conjures up the atmosphere of fighting in Burma in 1945; the heat, the rain, the weirdness and terror of fighting in the jungle at night, the rough good humour and companionship, the sudden death, the team dynamics of a battle hardened section and the espirit de corps of the multi racial Fourteenth Army under General Slim. You finish this book having laughed a lot and tasted a little of what it must have been like to soldier in Burma. It's a great little book.
on 26 May 2004
George Macdonald Fraser has written an utterly absorbing and unforgettable account of his experiences in Burma at the end of WW2, where he served with a company of men mainly from Cumberland. The men are vividly described so that you almost feel you know them yourself, and it is a terrible shock, nearly halfway through the book, when a one of them is killed during a bloody nighttime battle. There are richly humorous episodes too, like the time the section are given the job of gathering up supplies from an air drop, and return laden down with stolen goodies, or the time they are terrorised by a fearsome giant centipede. Every time I read this book, I find myself wishing that I had been there, that I had been one of those young men fighting their way through the jungle, which is completely crazy, as I've never come any closer to combat than seperating two fighting toddlers. I can't help it, this is the effect this book has on me. At the end of the book, when he finally leaves the section to go to be an officer (fulfilling his comrade Parker's oft-repeated prophecy "with my permish you'll get a commish!"), you feel a sense of sadness that the adventure is ending, and I can never hear the tune "bye-bye blackbird" without substituting the Burma version "you've been out with Sun-Yat-Sen, you won't go out with him again, Shanghai bye-bye" George Macdonald Fraser is a superb writer, and his writing skill reaches its peak in this book. Read it and laugh. Read it and weep. Read it and wish you were there too. Oh, go on, just read it!
on 16 January 2001
George MacDonald Fraser is best known for his eleven volumes of The Flashman Papers in which the arch coward, fornicator and liar Sir Harry Flashman blunders his way through peril after peril, effectively tramlining the key military conflicts of the nineteenth century. Flashman succeeded mainly on account of its historical accuracy. In Quartered Safe Out Here - an autobiographical account of MacDonald Fraser's own military campaign in Burma during the latter stages of World War II, again the author strives to be as accurate as it is possible to be after a time lapse of some fifty years. He sets down his experiences always mindful of the fact that his reader is likely to be of a generation conditioned by a modern philosophical tradition that is essentially pacifist. Few modern historians, he believes, are able to grasp that the generation who went to war in far flung places such as Burma were conscious of the full horrors of war and had themselves been conditioned by tales of sheer terror from the earlier campaigne and as youngsters has grown up in the atmosphere of post-war disillusionment that followed. A job had to be done, that of repelling an aggressor. Argumants concerning the rights and wrongs of imperialism and the sacraficing of young British lives deep in South-East Asia were not on the agenda.
Macdonald Fraser provides a compelling, subjective account of the day-to-day life and death struggles of Nine section 'Cumberland Borderers' charged with the task of entering Japanese occupied territory, driving back the enemy and cutting off his escape routes as part of 17th division's 'big push.' Often the offensives he describes involve bizzare and quite humorous incidents such as the time he wound up treading water down a stagnant well while the battle raged on above, and the time he had to leap for cover when he noticed some lunatic about to load a bomb down the barrel of an anti-tank gun the wrong way. Detailed descriptions of contemporary military hardware and some wonderful characterisations of those 'Cumberland boys' make this an interesting and entertaining book. Complimentary to these accounts of the author's own subjective experiences are his introspections regarding some of the more serious issues involved in fighting a war, such as the psychological implications of killing enemy soldiers and the desire for avenging atrocities. MacDonald Fraser offers short shrift to anyone insensitive enough to enquire into his personal thoughts about taking the lives of Japanese soldiers. His conviction in respect of the absolute necessity of killing in open warfare is absolute and unequivical and one senses that he came through it all unaffected psychologically. The comparisons he makes between the aftermath of his campaigne and the level of psychological counseling offered to 'traumatised veterans' of the Gulf War are thought-provoking to say the least, as are his thoughts in respect of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
To his readers 'GMF' is a superstar. His works are brilliantly entertaining, accurate, humorous and full of irony. Quartered Safe Out Here is all of these things and contains one other vital ingrediant - honesty. It is a remarkable personal memoir - I wish there were more like it.
on 11 September 2010
It is about four years since I last read this book and it is one of the few of my "war" books that I recommended my wife read (which she did and was surprised she enjoyed!). Although superficially similar to the multitude of military personal memoirs the modern wars seem to spawn, Vietnam, Falklands, Gulf War's, etc. I think this book offers something fundamentally different and to some extent more significant; it vividly conveys how the war felt to the generation that fought it - real narrative history. As that generation passes away, it is important that people refer to books such as these to understand what/how people felt rather than some form of Hollywood inspired interpretation based on modern values.
on 7 October 2001
George Macdonald Fraser has such a superb and accessible style that at first that I thought it wouldn't be suited to the brutal and harsh details
of the Burma campaign. Yet as the memoir goes on the detail becomes much grimmer, much more vivid, and you really do gain an insight into the soldiers view of war. The fear, the confusion, the spoken and unspoken comradeship of the soldiers.
You also find out what he thinks about the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and it makes for fascinating reading. What George Macdonald Fraser really does is bring home to you, that war is often 'little' violent terrifying skirmishes rather than huge massive well ordered battles.
He is a little too dismissive of today's more emotional society, rather than the stiff upper lip of the second world war. Although you can understand up to a point why he is so critical.
The great thing about this memoir is that there is no false sentimentality. It is honest, and some will no doubt find his views controversial.
However, he does have the benefit of having being in battle, and that gives his views a force that is hard to deny.
on 31 August 2001
This really is the kind of book that should be on the history exam syllabus. At a time when the West is obsessed with post-imperial guilt, and to have been on the the winning side in the war is often regarded as something to be ashamed of, this book offers a valuable insight into why, sixty years ago, people thought it important to fight. The long periods of tedious activity (enlivened by GMF's focus on the humourous and the absurd) are contrasted with brief but intense fire-fights that take the reader inside the experience of infantry battle; the episode when GMF describes the loss of a third of his unit in under 2 minutes is harrowing. But what makes this memoir so wonderfully written is GMF's ability to describe the emotions and concerns of him and his comrades (and his thoughts on the Hiroshima bomb are fascinating, if not quite what you would expect by the end of the book)...
on 15 May 2011
Towards the end of his life George McDonald Fraser wrote this memoir of his experiences as a very young man fighting in the last battles of the Burma campaign. He acknowledges the unreliablity of his memory - the result not of age but of being a young private (later a lance corporal) in the chaos of war. His memory of contacts with the enemy in battle is very clear, he writes, but he needed to refer to regimental histories in order to make sense of these memories in the broader narrative of the campaign - something to which he would never have been privy at the time.
The result is a remarkable book - funny, exciting and moving by turns as he recounts his life in Nine Section, a Scot in the midst of Cumbrians. He remained to the end of his life, he notes, a man of his times, a product of imperial Britain, unforgiving of the Japanese (the repeated use of the term "Jap" drives home this point) and unapologetic of these facts. His honesty about this and about how the war was fought is an important aspect of the book, fundamental to presenting a clear sighted but affectionate portrait of the sort of men who served. Paradoxically this also leads to points where he rails against aspects of the modern world - European Union, and a perceived "softness" on criminals for example - perhaps honest about what he felt but, unlike the rest of the book, little to do with considered experience.
These quibbles aside this is an exceptional book, beautifully written and a fine tribute to the men Fraser served with and the generation who defeated European fascism and Japanese militarism.
on 23 April 2005
An amazing book. The author who I, like others, will call GMF, writes of his part in the Burma campaign in 1944-5.
From the start GMF makes no apologies. His recall of events is not photographic. What he recalls are emotions and things that set off recall e.g. smells and sounds. He also makes no apologies for his view point which would nowadays be called 'politically incorrect'. That is to be expected and rightly so. He is a product of his time, place and upbringing.
Anybody who has served in the British armed forces, especially the Army, will recognise the humour and the silly sngs and jokes that help (My late father-in-law recounted till the day he died a whole barrack room crying with laughter at a soldier chanting, "It was a dark and stormy night, three men sat in a cave and one of the men turned to the others and said, 'It was a dark and stormy night etc'". The soldiers in 10 platoon live again and deserve to (e,g, Sgt. Hutton's comments on Shakespeare were a surprise but very perceptive). The book needs to be long remembered even if for one thing only - GMF's description of General 'Bill' SLIM. He was one of Britain's greatest commanders and GMF's opinions run true.
Read it, in fact it should be required reading for all historians not just military historians. You can't judge an age by modern standards and mores (which may be, whisper it quietly, wrong!).
on 24 September 2004
A fantastic piece of literature. Written partly in broad Cumbrian dialect, which you simply have to try reading out loud for effect, this book is amazing. To date, I have bought copies for 4 of my friends and family, recommended it as essential reading for round the world trips, and I have a very well read copy which I dip into on a regular basis. If only someone would take this book and make it into a film, then perhaps the "forgotten 14th Army" would gain their rightful place in our history. Since reading this book, I have found many more titles on the Burma conflict, and read each avidly, but Quartered Safe Out Here is still THE best read.
on 29 August 2010
my introduction to George MacDonald Fraser was by a friend who reccomended to me
'The Complete MacAuslan' Short stories about a highland regiment shortly after the war, which totally enchanted me and has become my favourite book of all time which I have read time after time. Therefore I looked forward To 'Quatered Safe Out Here' though wondering Would he be able to inject that magical humour into his memoir of a young and concientious infantry private fighting in this dreadful war against a bestial enemy. Thankfully he did, and thus portrayed the british soldier as we know him to be, competent, no nonsense and always with a sense of humour, whatever the situation.
He surmonises somewhat towards the end of the book about the bombing of Japan and the over emotional society of today. I am of the generation following George and agree with him on all the points he puts forward. To hell with being politically correct, tell it like it is as George does.
A rattling good read.