Quartered Safe Out Here: A Recollection of the War in Burma, by George MacDonald Fraser (1992)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

George MacDonald Fraser fought in the 17th (Black Cat) Indian Division of the 14th Army during the siege of Meiktila and the battle of Pyawbwe in Burma during World War II. He is most famous for his superb “Flashman” series of novels set in the Victorian Empire, but his wartime autobiography, Quartered Safe Out Here—the title taken from a telegram he sent his parents—is his masterpiece. He was lying to his parents; there was nothing safe about his time fighting in the Burmese jungles, and nor was this just because of the Japanese. He also had to deal with the problems of malaria, 15-inch long poisonous centipedes, “spiders the size of plates,” typhus, jungle sores on his wrists and ankles, dysentery, and leeches attaching themselves to his person when he waded through rivers.

Fraser undoubtedly correctly saw Burma as, along with the RAF’s Bomber Command, “the worst ticket you could draw in the lottery of active service” in the British Army in World War II. In this beautifully written and occasionally very moving book he concentrates on the experiences of his Border Regiment company, relating how his close-knit group of comrades fought the Japanese, mourned their fallen friends, and tried to retain their decency and dignity in a deeply hostile environment. Much of it is very politically incorrect to modern ears—Fraser doesn’t deny having enjoyed killing Japanese soldiers in hand-to-hand combat—but the book nonetheless recalls as accurately as possible what jungle warfare was genuinely like. The description of the Burmese monsoon is worth the price of the book alone.