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on 29 October 2009
Forgotten Voices of Burma draws on the vast resources of the Imperial War Museum's sound archive to retell this story in the words of those who were there. This book captures the essence of what it was like to fight in the Allie's largest campaign against the Japanese in Burma's austere environment. Thompson's narrative expertly stitches together numerous accounts of the conflict into a comprehensive, coherent and revealing story of how the `Forgotten Army' turned defeat into victory. Forgotten Voices of Burma will be of immense value to anyone with more than a passing interest in the 1941 - 45 Burma campaign.
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on 24 March 2015
A fine compendium by Major General Julisan Thompson, an expert military historian and himself the prime land-force commander during the Falklands Campaign (1982). Whilst the Burma Campaign (1942-45) is seen by some academics as strategically a sideshow to the central Pacific campaigns under the parallel direction of the outstanding Admiral Chester Nimitz and the more publicity-inclined General Douglas MacArthur, it was the largest land campaign against the Japanese. It was also conducted by a hugely multi-national (actually Imperial) Army, and led by General Bill Slim, an outstanding leader and arguably Britain's best general of WWII, albeit from a lacklustre cast. It also demonstrated that the British forces, once well led and organised, mastered jungle warfare to the degree that the Japanese - for all their fanaticism - never achieved. Interested readers shold not fail to read 'Defeat into Victory' by General Slim himself and 'Quartered Safe Out Here' by Beorge MacDonald Fraser - author of the famous 'Flashman' series..
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on 13 April 2015
The heroism, chaos, tragic errors and atrocity chimes clearly from the first hand accounts of privates through to generals without need of comment from the author. Each section is prefaced with a succinct and helpful background explanation of the campaign as it progresses. This story is still too seldom told and the lessons unlearned. The combatants were let down because there was no clear strategy and a failure to properly resource the army.
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on 9 May 2017
Excellent story telling of a war little is known about. Really enriching read. A true testimony to those that were in Burma during the 2nd world war.
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on 10 August 2010
One of the great accomplishments of the Imperial War Museum was the oral history program for returning veterans after World War II. Julian Thompson, following in the foot steps of Stephen Ambrose, takes the same material and uses it in multiple publications. A reading of Thompson's The Imperial War Museum Book of the War In Burma 1942 - 1945 will see use of the same material. Nothing wrong with that; Ambrose used the same material in at least four books that I'm aware of. This book is not a detailed history of the war in Burma. Thompson tries to put the material in chronological order but given the simultaneous events it does get confusing. For example, how can you write about the Chindits, Kohima and Imphal in the first two weeks of April, 1944 without competing events on the same day.
There are no references to NCAC operations that I can see. I didn't see any quotes from members of the British 36th division.
Charpoy Chindit, my favorite reviewer is unnecessarily harsh in his assessment of this book. I enjoyed reading the first hand quotes from the soldiers who were there at the time. If memories have faded with the years since the actions, it only makes the sources more human. Who really cares if it was a Typhoon or a Thurderbolt at Meiktila? I'm interested in the first hand account of a tank crew member at Nungshigum; I don't really care if he can't remember if it was a Lee or a Stuart. This book should be read after the reader has acquainted his or herself with the war in the Burma theatre, other wise it won't make much sense. The fact that 161 Brigade fought in the Arakan, then flew to Kohima / Imphal to fight there isn't brought out in any detail in this book. Thompson's narative is okay. I'm less interested in the narative then in the stories taken from the soldier's who fought there.
Things you won't find in this book include any reference to the NCAC area, members of the African Brigades or Divisions and any of the Chinese soldiers who fought in the Ledo, Lashio or Bhamo areas.
Yes, there are numerous errors; probably due to fading memories; not an attempt to rewrite history. If Thompson uncovers an error in an oral history, is he really obligated to mention the correct fact. ("No, no, no. It was a Thunderbolt, not a Typhon.") Who cares, beside Charpoy Chindit.
I recommend this book for readers interested in the history of the area and the history of world war 2. Its an easy read, lots of pictures. I hope that Thompson goes back into the archives of the IWM and generates More Forgotten Voices of Burma. These men (and women) accomplished something incredible. The least we armchair historians can do, is appreciate all they did at the time with the resources available.
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on 16 February 2017
A truly engrossing read for anyone interested in what happened outside Europe during World War II.
My father was RSM in the Durham Light Infantry. He rarely spoke of his experiences in Burma. All I knew as a child was that he had served in Africa - I found an old photo album with him bathing in half an oil drum, on the back he had written ' foothills of Kilimanjaro'.
Others were of cheetah, elephants & other wildlife, some with other soldiers in the same landscape. He was in a few of them & was quite happy to tell me about the wonderful local people. He spoke Swahili fluently
Burma was totally different. He had his medals in a tin at the back of a drawer & when nosy child asked about Burma Star, he remarked it was along time ago. End of conversation!.
Over the years I picked up a few snippets, Dad washed his feet when he came in from work & put powder on them - every nook & cranny had to be powdered. Summertime was more frequent! He had the smelliest feet ever, sometimes he had to go to the doctors as they were sore. He did say it was ' Foot Rot' due to his feet being constantly wet in the jungle in Burma.
As I got a bit older, I noticed a scar on his shin - he said it was from a mosquito bite - I think I said it must have a really big mozzy! I now know it was a scar from a bullet wound.
In my mid teens my dad had a really bad attack of malaria, which was frightening to both my mother & myself. He was never I'll, my mother told me what it was, he had more frequent attacks after he came home in 1947. He had had very few attacks in recent years.
Occasionally he met an army pal called 'Jock Sword' - Dad was from Durham so I don't know his unaccented surname was! He was always very quiet after they met up for a drink. I do know they were in Burma together.
He had a deep affection for Vera Lynn & always watched if she was on television, quiet often his eyes would 'water' when she sang. I asked him why he liked her so much, he told me she had visited the troops in Burma & had really cheered the lads up, when everyone else had forgotten them. He always called her ' Our Vera'. So the title of this book caught my interest.
Dad died in 1979 from lung cancer - curse of the Woodbine! When my mother passed away in 1996, I found the tin box with the medals & ribbons inside, also there was his pay book, a reference from his CO & other papers. There was also a very large card envelope, which was a total surprise as it contained a leaving card with numerous signatures & lovely messages from both officers & men. It was signed in Nurenburg 1947. Did try to get more info, but was told it was classified.
This book shed light on what it was like in Burma for my father & so many others. They were the ' Forgotten Army'
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on 25 May 2011
Another great book in the FORGOTTEN VOICES series.
It covers the campaign in Burma 1941-45 using the accounts of the people who were involved in it.
The jungle was an horrendous place to fight a war against the Japs, the conditions they had to live and fight in were pretty awful.
They had to put up with malaria, dysentry, leeches, monsoons, lack of fresh water and proper medical facilities having to improvise with what they had.
The Japs were a very strong and formidable enemy who didn't want to take any prisoners, they would sooner kill badly wounded or dying Allied troops rather than take them as POWs.
Now having read this book and having a better understanding of the war in the Far East I can fully understand why the troops that fought this campaign and survived hate the Japanese for the battlefield atrocities they commited against their comrades.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about the Burma campaign, reading first hand accounts of the troops who fought there really brings home the horror of war.
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Whilst I'm not quite so critical as Charpoy Chindit's 3* review, I must agree that the author's choice of structure is confusing. He chose to follow specific actions in detail, rather than going through the campaign in strict chronological order. Whilst it does help to keep individual operations & battles coherent, it also makes it difficult to keep an overview of an unfamiliar campaign; for me & for many others, I'm sure, Burma truly is a little-known "sideshow".

My standard criticism of this series is the poor quality of the photo's, as they are printed on ordinary paper. In this book, that is not so noticeable. However, this is mainly because far too many of them are portraits, where there is no detail to be lost, so they remain disappointing. Maps are also a serious problem. I suspect that many people, like me, are reasonably familiar with the geography of Europe and therefore stand a reasonable chance of working out where unfamiliar places roughly are. Burma, a very distant land with very alien place names, is another matter. The maps in this book are inadequate, badly organised, and will often leave you puzzled as to where the action was. To give one example, Maymyo is mentioned a great deal in the early part of the book, never in the latter. Trouble is, it's not till halfway through the book that you get a map where its location is shown (it's a few miles east of Mandalay). It doesn't help that, whilst place names are naturally given as the soldiers knew them, many have since changed (Maymyo is now Pyin Oo Lwin, for example).

I'm not sufficiently expert on the Burma campaign to question whether detail is correct, although I will say that veterans mis-designating equipment, confusing a Lee tank with a Grant, or Typhoons for Thunderbolts, isn't something that bothers me. It is enough that a tank or plane was there performing its mission; I can forgive veterans' errant memories! The strength of the book, as always with the series, is the excellent & varied selection of personal accounts. Burma was largely a land campaign, with a vital RAF component. This is well reflected in the balance of testimony chosen. There is just a little from civilians, a moderate amount from the RAF, some from African & Indian troops, a few contributions from the enemy (both Japanese & INLA), much from officers of Gurkha / Indian / African units, and the bulk from white Commonwealth forces. It's all deeply interesting; it's a just a shame that, on the whole, the presentation of the book could have been better done.
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on 4 August 2010
This is one of the familiar IWM `Forgotten Voices..." series.
Much of it's content will also be familiar to those who have read Julian Thompson's books `The Imperial War Museum Book Of The War In Burma 1942-1945' and `The Imperial War Museum Book Of War Behind Enemy Lines' (which covers the Chindits), which are far superior to this volume. This one claims to be "a new history of the Second World War's forgotten conflict", but many of the other personal accounts included here are also available in book form or online; Calvert, Randle, Norman, Dillon, and the 2 Norfolk stuff, for example. Other accounts, like Hogan's, are welcome, if rather confused, additions. Hogan is repeatedly referred to as a member of the armoured car section of 2 Burma Rifles; surely it should be Burma Auxiliary Force. A few West African & Indian accounts have been included for the obvious reasons, but it is sad to say that they are not that enlightening. What remains are recollections, some quite vague, without editorial comment. There is an infuriating lack of detail concerning dates and places. No attempt has been made to check or confirm people's names. This has lead to very many errors. This may be expected in an oral history project, but surely some comment should have been noted in the transcriptions. For example; the constant reference to Lieutenant Nolan (instead of Knowland) is quite shameful in view of his Victoria Cross award. Readers may also be confused by references to Typhoons at Meiktila, when presumably Thunderbolts were meant. Such errors are too numerous to list.

Many of the accounts are very good, but this format, which necessitates the chopping up of the personal accounts in a failed attempt to create a comprehensive historical narrative, works against the strengths of the material. The Imphal chapter is particularly badly organised, and the constant shifting back and forth between operations on the Tiddim Road and in the Kabaw Valley shows a lack of understanding of the operations under discussion, and will only confuse the general reader. The later operations, Meiktila and the Rangoon Road battles, seem particularly rushed, and, as usual, the Chindit operations are over represented. As a result it cannot be seen as a comprehensive account of the war in Burma.
A good deal of Space has been wasted on rather pointless glossary.
This is an IWM book so good photographs are to be expected, although the cheap paper makes them look a rather grainy. It is also disappointing
that so many post-war portraits have been used.

It is difficult to recommend this book to the general reader while the volumes mentioned above are still easily available.
Although the hardened Burma enthusiast will find much familiar content here, there is enough of interest to make it worth ploughing through the unhelpful format and the numerous errors.
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on 7 March 2011
Having recently read "Fighting Through To Kohima" by Michael Lowry and being an avid reader and admirer of the "Forgotten Voices" series, I was very much looking forward to reading this book about the Burma campaign.
As ever with the "Forgotten Voices" series, you get it first hand. There are plenty of no holds barred witness testimony covering the retreat from the (initially) underestimated Japanese army. There are sections on the morale boosting Chindit expeditions and ultimately, on to the battles at Kohima and Imphal that tipped the balance and won a hard fought victory.
Conditions were obviously appaling at times and the hardships British, Commonwealth and indeed Japanese troops endured are obvious. As ever the bravery, the gallows humour, the fear, the friendship, the courage and the overwhelming need for a cup of tea, are all here.
Gurkhas, Brits, Africans,Indians,Americans,Chinese, Burmese, Japanese, fighting through jungle, monsoon, mud, filth and disease - incredible.
The testimonies are marvellous and thought provoking - another marvellous collection reflecting the courage of soldiers in some of the most atrocious conditions of the second world war.
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