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 unreliability 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.