Not Ordinary Men (Book) Review
by Mark Barnes - War History Online
Publisher: Pen and Sword Books Ltd
Author: John Colvin
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This book was first published in 1994 and has seen several reprints. The author John Colvin knew his subject. He was born in Japan, he knew the people. He had fought them and taken their surrender in Saigon. His writing style is often fast flowing like your favourite brook from a childhood memory where you looked for tadpoles – where it widens and gets a little lazy or where it is trickier to ford. At times it slows to a dormant meander and you get a little hazy and then it zooms off again. You want to throw stones into it. But the detail is all there and so are the magnificent people. Too many of them die.
Inevitably we find ourselves drawn to the Epitaph written by the classicist John Maxwell Edmonds who never set foot anywhere near Burma, but was inspired by similarities with Simonides and the Spartans at Thermopylae. He wrote the immortal lines
When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say? For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.
Those lines get you, don’t they? Don’t say they don’t. I defy you. Poems come out all long and way too wordy and I can’t be doing with all that. But there in two lines you have it all. Sacrifice and Remembrance. Take note. Never forget. Nuff said.
The British 2nd Infantry Division included proud regiments whose colours bear the battle honour “Kohima” as well they might. But only one regiment from the actual garrison, the Royal West Kents, through the epic fought by the sturdy 4th Battalion has “Defence of Kohima” on theirs. They endured horrors of the like no man should bear against that most resilient and terrifying enemy, the Japanese soldier. They withstood the jungle and all its evils. They took it all on and won. But the things that were done to them left a terrible mark and down the years they have faded away as old British soldiers do. When they held a gathering of veterans at Kohima many years ago; British, Indian and Japanese, nobody from the West Kents would go. Feelings remain raw.
Reviewed by Mark Barnes from War History Online. To read the full review of Not Ordinary Men click here.
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