10 Books To Honor Veterans Day And The Burma Campaign

books to remember Veterans Day Burma campaign

Somewhere beyond the fence of trees, their branches growing in links of green and brown, lies a graveyard. We can see no marble headstones, no dried flowers or markers of remembrance – just the golden tiles of a pagoda inside the forest boundary.

But it’s there, our Myanmar guidebook indicates. In a country considered to have the longest, bloodiest campaign of WWII, behind a muddy brown river that separated Allied Forces from a Japanese retreat, rest the casualties of the fight for Bago town.

For the soul of soldiers who died during the World War II, reads a framed piece of paper inside the Peace Pagoda memorial. One simple sentence in Japanese, English and Burmese script, reminding the quiet observer that bullets do not differentiate between continents or cultures.

This Veterans Day, let us remember the brave soldiers from both sides of the Burmese story with the following books:

The Narrow Road To The Deep North – Richard Flanagan, 2013

Though flashbacks – of malarial victims, shoeless builders and the savage contempt of Japanese officers – one prisoner of war proves that man’s ethical beliefs are rarely as black or white as history perceives. Winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize.

The Road To Burma – Donovan Webster, 2004

While Allied POWs struggled to build a railroad for the Japanese, a group of men were facing similar conditions voluntarily – to clear a path across Burma and reconnect with Chinese forces. This inside account explores some of the nuts and bolts of the Burma-India-China theater of war.

The Bridge Over The River Kwai – Pierre Boulle, 1962

The classic tale of a British colonel who must unwillingly aid the Japanese by building a railway bridge. Loyalty, national pride and personal integrity are challenged in this terse fiction. The film adaptation won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

The Harp Of Burma – Michio Takeyama, 1950

No reading list would be complete without including the words of the Japanese, who also suffered in Burma’s extreme environments. Often compared to All Quiet On The Western Front, Takeyama’s novel uses music to humanize ‘the enemy’ and remind the reader that hope emerges in even the darkest of landscapes.

Railway Man – Eric Lomax, 2008

Forgiveness is the ghost that haunts this POW autobiography. 50 years after Lomax is tortured by a Japanese captor who suspects him of spying, he rediscovers the man who tried to break him. Now a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth.

The King’s Rifle – Biyi Bandele, 2009

One of the first books to tell the tale of African soldiers in WWII, Bandele’s fictional work follows a teenage boy who joins up with a unit working secretly behind Japanese lines. The dangers of the mission are no less harrowing when seen through adolescent eyes.

The Forgotten Highlander – Alistair Urquhart, 2011

Like a cat with nine lives, Urquhart survives the Burmese railroad, the bombing of a Japanese transport ship and the atomic attack on Nagasaki, where he was a POW. His unbelievable escapes are recounted with humility in these pages.

One Fourteenth of An Elephant – Ian Denys Peek, 2003

This is the searing account of  one man’s traumatic experiences on the Burma-Thailand Railway. While recalling the horrors and inhumanity of his captors, Peek also emphasizes the hope and friendship that sustained him throughout.

Road of Bones – Fergal Keane, 2013

Keane, a BBC reporter, writes with journalistic frankness about the battle of Kohima. In this Indian town on the border with Burma, a tiny force of British and Indian troops eventually pushed the Japanese out of the country. It is a hard-won victory, as hundreds of Allied soldiers perish on the ‘Road of Bones’ back across Burma.

We Gave Our Today – William Fowler, 2011

In 1944, British forces of the 14th Army finally thwarted Japanese efforts in Burma. First-hand accounts and technical details highlight the triumph of what has been called ‘The Forgotten Army,’ in a nonfiction history that covers the Burma Campaign from 1921-45.

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