It would take the combined talents of a Zola, a Dostoevsky and a Céline, according to Frank McLynn, to tell the epic story of William Slim’s 14th Army in Burma during the Second World War. His aim is a more modest ‘history from above’, to tell the story of the ‘Forgotten Army’ through the biography of four of the Burma campaign’s big beasts – Slim; Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander, South-East Asia Command; the American general Joseph Stilwell; and the Chindit leader, General Orde Wingate. McLynn thinks of them as the Burma campaign’s Four Musketeers – Mountbatten, the boastful royalist and self-publicist, plays d’Artagnan; Slim, the soldier and man of integrity, is Athos; General Wingate, with his Machiavellianism and vaulting ambition, is Aramis; and the honest, gullible extrovert Stilwell is Porthos.
The story that McLynn tells is indeed an epic. The war in Burma was fought in some of the most inhospitable jungle terrain on earth against a ruthless and brutal Japanese enemy. Slim’s army was deployed along a 700-mile front from the Chinese border to the Bay of