E.S. Turner shocks the sensitive

E.S. Turner

  • Quartered Safe Out Here: A Recollection of the War in Burma by George MacDonald Fraser
    Harvill, 255 pp, £16.00, June 1992, ISBN 0 00 272660 2
  • Tyrants and Mountains: A Reckless Life by Denis Hills
    Murray, 262 pp, £19.95, June 1992, ISBN 0 7195 4640 0

The chronicler of that glorious cad Flashman, last encountered as General Sir Harry Flashman VC, was himself a man at arms. As a one-striper in General Slim’s 14th Army George MacDonald Fraser took part in ‘the last great battle in the last great war’, a showdown which was also ‘the final echo of Kipling’s world’. More specifically, it was the struggle for Meiktila and Pyawbwe on the Rangoon road which settled Japan’s hash in Burma. The author, too young to vote in the 1945 Election, was not too young to lead older men into action (‘the voice of the schoolboy rallies the ranks’). He was expected to kill Japanese in hand-to-hand fighting, whereas this reviewer, by the luck of the draw, was expected only to kill Germans at five or six miles range in the stratosphere. Fraser’s mates were called on to ponder such ethical problems as: does one instantly shoot Japanese found asleep in a hut, or does one wake them up first? For the record, they took the view that it did not greatly matter, but it wasn’t really right to shoot sleeping men. Along the way they learned that the problem with bayoneting an enemy was that the bayonet often bent and even when it didn’t it could be hard to pull out (a batman explained to his officer that ‘the way to free a bayonet is to fire a shot into the body. The theory is that it lets in air, or releases pressure on the blade, or something’).

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