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Daniel Berke
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
"Never have I had greater respect for soldiers than those of the 14th Army who served under Bill Slim, and in particular those guys who were in the Chindit columns. They suffered hugely as they got inside enemy territory in the Burmese Jungle and as they fought against all odds; some surviving, some being captured and many dying. This book exemplifies the courage of the men who faced this ordeal." The Right Hon Colonel Bob Stewart DSO.

No-one meeting Frank Berkovitch, a quiet, reserved tailor, could have guessed that he had served with the Chindits in Burma and suffered prolonged Japanese captivity. Yet not only had he fought as a Bren-gunner on Operation LONGCLOTH, their first deep penetration mission, but he was the legendary General Orde Wingate's batman. The Chindits were Wingate's inspired idea and, while suffering heavy losses from enemy action and deprivation, they dispelled the myth that the Imperial Japanese Army was invincible. Outnumbered, outgunned, carrying 70lb packs and reliant on RAF air drops for supplies, the 3,000 men of the Chindit columns overcame harsh jungle terrain and climatic conditions to take the fight to the enemy behind their own lines. They wreaked havoc with enemy communications and caused heavy enemy casualties while gathering vital intelligence. After months of malnutrition and disease and hunted by the vengeful Japanese, the survivors faced a desperate race to escape from Burma. Captured crossing the Irrawaddy river, Frank endured two years imprisonment at the hands of notoriously cruel captors. Superbly researched, this inspiring book vividly describes the Chindits' first operation and the hardship suffered by, and heroism of, Frank and his comrades, many who never returned.

This book is chock-full of heroes, some famous like Orde Wingate and Mike Calvert. Others like Frank Berkovitch and thousands of 'ordinary Chindits" who served, most of them to die in Burma. To become a Chindit, the ordinary soldier had to undergo rigorous physical training and hardships and tough mental stamina to sustain them under stress in the Jungle, each man knowing that if he were to be badly wounded he would be left behind to the mercies of the jungle and certainly none from the Japanese. On one painful and desperate situation, 15 wounded men were shot to save them from the Japanese Army. M many thousands of others were killed by the outrageous treatment and lack of medicines when taken prisoner of war.

This story is what desktop publishing was invented for, it's a prime example of a family history record and should feature as such as a template for anyone studying their family tree with the intention of writing down the story. I've traced and written 33 pages of my grandfather's service in the Battle of the Somme and after reading this book I need to re-edit it. For Daniel Berke to be able to travel and trace his grandfathers journey on Operation Longcloth it must have emotionally affected him in a small way, his grandfather Frank was severely traumatised by his battles and captivity, as in many of these type of books where survival is always very much against the odds his faith helped to carry him through. He was a Tailor in civvy street and trained to become a Chindit killing Bren gun machine and batman!

I don't want to give the game away, but poor Frank like so many of the returned POWs was reticent to talk about his experiences in Burma. One anecdote he did tell his grandson was a story of drinking Elephant Wee, you'll have to read the book for the full story. After his Grandfather died, Daniel was given 15 handwritten pages of Frank's wartime reminiscences. With this scanty information Daniel took it upon himself to research the Chindits and their role in behind enemy lines fighting techniques. He then went on the Operation Longcloth trail to see and feel what granddad did.
One of the final heroes of the story is the BREN GUN which receives more mentions than Wingate and Calvert themselves.
Maybe not one of the most literary depictions of warfare, but by heaven its simplicity and personal nature ty makes it a fantastic book for you to be able to be able to say, "I read that "with pride. An important addition to military Family history. Four Mushroom heads.

ALL royalties from the sale of this book are donated to Veterans In Action.

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