By Sir Desmond Morton
DEFEAT INTO VICTORY, by Field Marshal Sir William Slim (Cassell, 250.
URING the second World
War-and not for the first time in history-British soldiers, sailors and airmen were fighting, suffering, dying and eventually victorious in several parts of the world at once.
The attention of most people in the British Isles was riveted on what seemed to them to be the most important front. Germany was the enemy most to he feared; the war against the Japanese was a matter for the Americans, who would, in due course, settle their hash. If meanwhile, Singapore, Malaya, Burma and even India were invaded. it was a bad job; hut it was all taking place a long way from one' S own hack garden. Were it only to correct the perspective of this dangerously limited though not wholly inaccurate point of view, Sir William Slim's book would he of outstanding and permanent value. It does much more than this. The author begs leave to doubt whether a General Officer in command is the right person to describe his campaigns. That depends upon the General, and in this case there can be no doubt whatsoever.
mHE book begins with Major-IL. General Slim, commander of a division in Iraq, being ordered to India for an undisclosed purpose in 1942, and ends in 1945 with General Sir William Slim, Allied Land Forces Commander. sitting with the Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral Mountbatten. at the formal surrender of the Japanese.
In these three-and-a-half years General Slim and the troops unde his command packed more varied experience, underwent more abrup
changes of fortune. suffered more from cold, wet, heat, hunger and disease, than normally falls to the lot of one man in ten thousand. Agonising retreat across some of the most difficult country in the world, with an ever-present chance of almost complete annihilation by a military machine specifically taught to regard death with an inhuman indifference and to act without mercy, even to wounded prisoners and civilian non-combalants; followed by superhuman efforts to rebuild shattered forces with quite inadequate equipment and stores; ending by the bursting of the bubble of Japanese superiority by superior courage, strategy. tactics and-let it never be forgotten-faith in something far higher than ruthless force and a sense of humour in the midst of every darkness and difficulty. This eulogy does not apply only to General Slim, hut, as he is the first to demand, to the men under his command, of whom but a proportion came from Great. Britain, but who included Indians, Churkas, Chinese. Americans. Burmese and others, all animated by the same determination to win through in the spirit of their inspiring and most human Chief.
SIGN OF HOPE
The ARTS of the hook make sad reading, summed up in the Field Marshal's own words: " The plain fact was that first Hutton, than General Alexander who replaced him, had each in turn found himself in the normal position of a British General at the start of a war-called upon to carry out a task impossible with the means provided." It is an understatement to suggest that this situation only exists at the start of a war in which British troops are engaged.
The style of the hook is soldierly and clear, without rancour or bitterness for those who failed in the hour of need.
It is a tale of breathless adventure enlightened throughout by stories of local happenings.