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The Road Past Mandalay Paperback – 1 Jan 2002
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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.
With Wingate dead the Chindits found themselves supporting the American-Chinese forces under 'Vinegar Joe' Stilwell, a noted Anglophobe - indeed, misanthrope - who told Lentaigne the Chindits were a 'bunch of lily-livered Limey popinjays'. He then fought them until they were so exhausted that to Masters everyone seemed to move like sleepwalkers in slow motion. 'A Cameronian lieutenant fell headfirst into a weapon pit and two Japanese soldiers five yards away leaned weakly on their rifles and laughed, slowly, while the officer struggled to his feet, slowly, and trudged up the slope the shells fell slowly and burst with long slow detonations and the men collapsed slowly to the ground, blood flowing in gentle gouts into the mud.'
Finally, after a bitter series of signals, Masters' demand for medical examination of 111th Brigade was agreed to. Over three days all the remaining 2,200 men were examined, of whom those judged fit for service in any theatre amounted to 118. Masters added his own name to the list and
asked, with bitter sarcasm, for orders from Stilwell for the remainder of his brigade. Stilwell sent them: 111th Company, as he now called it, would guard a Chinese artillery battery. When they arrived at their new task the friendly but puzzled American liaison officer said that they did not, really, need guarding much. 'I wasn't going to let the Chinese get away with that nonsense', wrote Masters. 'When a major of Chinese artillery gets a brigade commander of the Regular Indian Army assigned to protect him, he's damn well going to be protected.' They dug positions; when begged to leave, they dug deeper. After 10 days someone tired of this nonsense and 111th Company was finally permitted to leave Burma. Masters 'scrambled into a C-47 and, not knowing or caring where it was going, fell asleep'. 'The Road Past Mandalay' is surely the best memoir of campaign.
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