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Surviving the Japanese Onslaught: An RAF POW in Burma - William Albert Tate

The first thing that struck me about this book was the physical quality: heavy grade, glossy paper.

The second thing that struck me, whilst I was reading the table of contents, was the imbalance of chapter lengths. Some were but a few pages, but chapter 5 ran for almost 80 pages! Intrigued, I put this down to being written by an amateur. It turns out I was right, but (and I hope the author will forgive me for saying this) this made the book all the more poignant.

In a nutshell, the book is about William Albert Tate and his war-time experiences, as told to his son, William Tate with a few extra pieces of research added in to substantiate events.

As you might expect, it is chapter 5 which is where the meat of the book is. This contains the details of William Albert Tate’s incarceration in Rangoon gaol after he bailed out of a Wellington bomber. (Whether the crew bailing out of the aircraft was the right thing to do appears to be up for debate. It might be argued that the aircraft could have been saved.)

The brutal tale of his incarceration, the beatings, the starvation rations, the psychological games, and the generally squalid conditions, will surprise many who are not aware that the Japanese were not signatories to the Geneva convention which guaranteed (amongst other things) the treatment of prisoners of war.

The horrors are told in William Albert’s own words and these bring home the reasons why many of our forefathers hated the Japanese with a passion. William Albert was held in Rangoon gaol for two long years, virtually until the end of the war.

On release from the gaol, it was a case of William Albert not only finding it difficult to talk about what had happened and what he had witnessed, but that there was no-one for him to talk to about it. In those days we didn’t understand the lasting damage that shock and horror would leave on our servicemen, but also with such numbers coming home from war there was a lack of facilities to do so anyway. This culminated with William Albert having a nervous breakdown, which finally got him the treatment that he so badly needed.

The book contains plenty of pictures which make this personal tale all the more vivid.

Reading the academic texts one is unlikely to comprehend the full horrors of war. It is personal accounts like this that bring out so much more. Books like this put ‘flesh on the bones’ so to speak.

Summing up, at only 150 pages, a shorter book than the others I have had recently: however, one that educated me so much. I’ll happily award this book 4 anchors.