Sunday, January 11, 2015

Done: "The Jungle is Neutral" by F. Spencer Chapman

Done: The Jungle is Neutral: a soldier's two-year jungle escape from the Japanese Army by F. Spencer Chapman, 2003 reprint of 1948 book, 9781592281077.

A few years ago I read a memoir by a British infantryman who was caught behind lines after the battle for Singapore. He lived in the jungle for the duration of the war, relying on the ethnic Chinese communist guerrillas for food and shelter. He and some other Brit soldiers were stuck there, unable to plan or organize attacks on the Japanese, unable to freely travel, unable to speak to their hosts. The soldiers were slowly wasting away from illness and malnutrition.

Chapman's experience with disease and malnutrition was similar but, otherwise, quite a bit different.  Chapman was a Cambridge educated Officer in his thirties with expedition experience to the arctic and Himalayas.  He served in Europe until sent to Singapore in 1941.  In Singapore Chapman started up and ran a school on guerrilla warfare shortly before the Japanese took over Singapore and Malaysia. He organized a mission to stay behind the enemy lines and run sabotage operations against the Japanese.

Chapman and his fellow soldiers teamed with the ethnic Chinese to establish supply depots in the jungle and mountains and Spencer and a couple other Limey soldiers ran commando operations against rail lines and trucking.  These raids were fairly successful and that success drew Japanese attention and heat. Chapman joined the local Chinese with the intention of sharing stored munitions, training the the Chinese, and getting resupplied by the British.

But, resupply was not possible as communication with the Brits was severed. Chapman spent three and a half years in the jungle. The Chinese were fractured into different groups and had to rely on messengers to travel through the forests and jungles by foot and avoid Japanese soldiers and Quisling police. 

Chapman stayed with several different guerrilla groups and wanted to continue the fight against the Japanese. The tough terrain, lack of munitions and communication and coordination did not allow this. The Chinese guerrillas refused to act independently, they told Chapman they could not act without word from headquarters. Directives from headquarters could take months to arrive. Chapman did what training he could and wrote manuals for the guerrillas.

Chapman, other English, and the Chinese were frequently sick from Malaria, tick born illnesses, and typhus. Open sores and ulcers on their legs from leeches and small cuts that would get infected.  Malaria fevers would lay people out for days and days.

Once the war effort started to turn in the Allies favor the English navy started to land commandos and spies - both English and Chinese Malaysians - on the coast.  Radio contact was reestablished.  More soldiers parachuted in with supplies. Chapman was sent back to Colombo then on to India before returning for a few months at the end of the war

1.The subtitle is incorrect.  Chapman and others hid from the Japanese and informants but were still active. They were not being chased place to as if Inspector Gerard was on their trail.
2. Chapman had to rely on local guides to travel through the jungle paths.  His guides would get lost and though Chapman would show them his compass and tell the guide they were heading the wrong direction the guides would stubbornly walk in circles.
3.  Later in the book Chapman stays at a camp manned by Chinese who killed informants.  At one point he meets a man who murdered 87 informants.
4. The ethnic groups were split.  Many of the Malays, Sikhs, and Tamils worked with the Japanese. Chapman could feel safe when traveling though Chinese villages.
5. The native population, the Sakai, lived within the jungle and would often provide guides and food to Chapman and his colleagues and the Chinese.
6. Competing Chinese communist groups would call each other bandits and fight one another.
7. Chapman's tenure in the jungle insulated him from the nastier actions by the Japanese but he lists several massacres by the Japanese Army where villages were raised and the men, women, and children murdered. Some women would be immediately raped and sent to Army bordellos.
8. The jungle supplies little food. Chapman's first overland trip through the jungle was from his first supply depot the his area of operations a few miles away. He and his fellow soldiers figured to take some supplies and hunt and gather the rest of their food. Nope. No animals and no food and no easy water source without rain. Heat and the very tough terrain made travel verryyyy sloooooow.
9. I ordered this via ILL and it came from Minitex and is owned by Gustavus Adolphus. The copy is in very good shape. I think I ordered this after seeing a promo somewhere. I may call the College and ask how many times this circ'ed and if was added in 2003.

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