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4.0 out of 5 stars Master's Road Past Mandalay (a review by Thomas W Johnson), 25 Jan 2011
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This review is from: Road Past Mandalay (Hardcover)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's an easy read and Master's style is informal and personal, like he's writing to a friend.

The book opens surprisingly, a long, long ways from Burma, Imphal, Blackpool or Rees's 19th Division. They're in the Middle East under the command of William Slim of the 10th Indian Division. If any of you have read Slim's Unofficial History you'll quickly recognize two of the incidents from Slim's book repeated in Master's Road Past Mandalay. The two incidents are immediately recognizable (think Deir-es-Zor and the Pai-Tak Pass), and its interesting to read about the two actions; once from Slim's perspective, then from Master's point of view.

This is one of the few books written by "one who was there." Think Swinson's Kohima, Evan's Imphal or Slim's Defeat Into Victory. Like Slim's errors at Kohima and Imphal, Masters allowed himself to be backed into Blackpool on the second Chindit expedition after Joe Lentaign (111th Indian Infantry Brigade) was promoted to replace Orde Wingate. Blackpool was a travesty and its refreshing to read an author take responsibility for his actions instead of blaming Stilwell, Slim or Lentaign.

What drew my attention to Road Past Mandalay is how many other authors (Allen, Lattimer, Edwards, Keane) reference this title in their bibliographies.

The book is more then Master's time in the Chindits in 1944. In the book he describes being assigned to staff college at Quetta. Because of this assignment to the Quetta staff collge, he missed the opportunity to be surrounded, killed or captured by Rommel's Afrika Corps in the Cauldron battles prior to El Alamein.

He also takes the time to describe life in India before and during World War II when it was still part of the British Raj. Remember, Masters was born in India to a career Indian Army father, and except for school (Sandhurst) I don't believe he spent any significant time in England before or after World War II.

He describes his meeting Barbara, their courtship, fathering a daughter and separation from his family while deep in Burma as a Chindit.

One thing I did learn in this book was that after his Chindit experience he was assigned to Pete Rees's 19th (Dagger) Division at the time Rees was driving down the East Side of the Irrawady towards Mandalay. For a very, very short period of time, Rees went back to Corps headquarters and left Masters in Command of the Division. This was at a time the Division was in direct contact with the Japanese and fighting its way into the Northern outskits of Mandalay.

Again, its an easy read. Very few maps or pictures. Its more like reading a very long letter from a friend, far away, who you haven't seen for awhile.

He ends the book by telling us what happened to some of the characters in the story. How Rees died on steps of City Hall of a heart attack, or Chindit Bill Henning that is (or was) farming, Desmond Whyte, Chindit doctor; now (or was) a Radiologist in Northern Ireland, or how he (Masters) ended up in Montana with Barbara and their daughter.

If an author of Jon Lattimer's status takes the time to read the book and critique it in the pages of Amazon dot com, then, potential readers are advised to take notice.

The book is out of print but I notice that numerous copies still seem to be available. If you're interested in Chindit operations, the Burma Theatre, India and World War II you'll enjoy this book. I certainly did.
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