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Jacket Notes: Barnaby Phillips Discusses His Book, Another Man’s War

Published in the Sunday Times

Another Man's WarAnother Man’s War
Barnaby Phillips (Oneworld Books)

The inspiration for Another Man’s War came from my love of one of Africa’s most maligned countries, Nigeria. When I lived in Lagos as a BBC Correspondent some 15 years ago, I learned about the so-called “Burma Boys”, the 100,000 Africans sent to the jungles of Burma by the British during the World War II to fight against the Japanese.

Their contribution is all but forgotten today, both in Britain and in the former colonies from which they were recruited. But it wasn’t until 2011, when I managed to track down a Nigerian veteran of the Burma campaign with a remarkable story, that I had the confidence to start writing. His name was Isaac Fadoyebo, a gentle and gracious man, by then in his 80s. In the front yard of his modest Lagos home, he told me how he’d been severely wounded in Burma in 1944, and of how the Japanese had left him for dead deep in the jungle. Too sick to sit or even crawl, Isaac had clung to life in the weeks that followed. He was saved by the kindness of strangers. Muslim villagers took pity on Isaac and, at enormous risk to themselves, fed and eventually hid him in a family hut. Nine long months later, Isaac was freed by British soldiers.

So I set off for Burma to try and find the people who had saved him, carrying Isaac’s letter of thanks and photographs. It was an adventure that took me to a remote region of a troubled country, and an eventual encounter that I shall never forget.

With Isaac’s story firmly at the heart of my book, I tried to tell the wider tale of the Burma Boys. Why did these African soldiers go to Burma? Were they forced to fight for the British? What did they make of the mighty Japanese army and the dense Burmese jungle? How did their experiences change them as individuals, and the soon-to-be independent countries to which they returned? And why have they been forgotten?

I also tracked down a handful of the surviving British officers who had led African soldiers in Burma. Some were blind, others deaf, their voices weak, yet they spoke with haunting passion about that distant, traumatic time. By the time I’d finished writing, some two years later, all but one of these officers had died.

I’ve tried to paint a very different picture of the World War II to that which we are accustomed. I want to make readers reexamine their assumptions about some of the most dramatic events of the 20th century. But above all, Isaac’s story is a universal one, of courage, suffering and our common humanity, which I hope resonates far beyond Africa, Burma and Britain.

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