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Another man’s war

1 January 2020

Another Man's War: The Story of a Burma Boy in Britain's Forgotten ArmyAnother Man’s War: The Story of a Burma Boy in Britain’s Forgotten Army by Barnaby Phillips
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It doesn’t look like much from the description. It’s the story of an old soldier from the Second World War. So many books have been written about the Second World War — do we need another one, written so long afterwards? The protagonist of this story was not a famous general, or a fighter pilot ace, just an ordinary private from a West African Regiment. Yet I found it a profoundly moving and illuminating story.

Isaac Fadoyebo was born in a small town in Western Nigeria. He was recruited by the British Army, trained as a medical orderly and sent to Burma to be part of the Allied push to retake it from the Japanese. He was wounded in the only real action he saw, and much of the story is taken up with the account of his almost miraculous survival. He returned to Nigeria after the war at the age of 19, and became a civil servant.

Barnaby Phillips has done a superb job of researching Isaac Fadoyebo’s life, and the lives of those who touched his and tells his story in such a way that one learns an enormous amount about the history of Nigeria and of Burma, and of the nature of war itself.

One of the things that struck me was that Isaac Fadeyebo joined the army at the age of 17, as my father-in-law did. We once persuaded my father-in-law to tell his war stories, but he was always reluctant to do so. He joined the army, was captured at Tobruk, was in a POW camp in Italy, from which he escaped and returned home. Another private, another continent, same war.

But where the story of Isaac Fadoyebo illuminated this for me was in the enormous amount of time and resources all this took. Fadoyebo was trained for a year, then despatched by ship to Bombay, travelled by train to Calcutta, and then by ship again across the Bay of Bengal to Burma. All this effort to assemble an army and get it to the right place before a shot had ever been fired.

Isaac Fadoyebo’s unit was there to be just behind the front lines to provide first aid to wounded soldiers before they could be evacuated. Fadoyebo was wounded, and a lot of his colleagues killed, before they ever helped a single wounded combatant. From the point of view of army accountants the entire effort must count as a huge waste of time and money and resources.

But the story of people like Isaac needs to be told, and Barnaby Phillips tells it very well indeed.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. 4 January 2020 10:05 am

    Thanks for the review Steve, added to my wishlist.

    • 20 January 2020 1:35 pm

      Definitely worth a read.

      • 20 January 2020 1:37 pm

        Andi have indeed read it. An excellent book shining a light on a forgotten part of the Empire’s history.

        • 13 February 2020 5:54 am

          Glad to see that some of my book reviews and recommendations are useful!

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