A Legendary Chindit Revisits The Battle Areas of Burma

“Return to Burma” by Bernard Fergusson

Reviewed by John Hetherington.


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No man who ever took part in a wartime campaign will ask why Bernard Fergusson went back to Burma in 1960. Curiosity to know what time has done to a place in which one experienced the full range of human emotions — and, inevitably, left something of his youth — is enormously powerful.


To the second category of the episodes he recalls — that is, the mythology of the Burma campaigns — belongs Fergusson’s account of how, as the only way he could devise of effectively punishing a soldier who endangered the whole column by going to sleep as a sentry, he had the offender flogged.

He says he can safely tell the story now — at least he hopes he is safe in doing so — since he is no longer a serving soldier; this being so, he cannot, presumably, be brought to book on a charge of dispensing irregular justice in that long-ago emergency.

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[…] The soldier chose the flogging, and “duly received 10 strokes on the buttocks, through his trousers, from a knotted parachute rope while bending over a fallen tree.” These were administered by the sergeant-major in the presence of Fergusson and six other witnesses.

Fergusson records that the man himself was a model soldier thereafter, who “pulled his weight splendidly and was eventually killed while displaying gallantry to such a degree that I would probably have recommended him for a decoration.” […]