FOR MOST PEOPLE in Britain, then and now, the 1939-45 war was the struggle against Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. This was natural enough, unless you had family connections with what Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper call, in this new book, British Asia, or family members serving in the forces there. The Hitler war was on the doorstep. It was German planes which dropped bombs on British cities. It was against the Italian army, in the desert west of Cairo, that Britain's first cheering victories of the war were won. It was the second battle at El Alamein that Churchill was able to hail as 'the end of the beginning', and it was the victor there, Montgomery, who became at once, and remained, the best known and most popular of our generals.
In contrast the war against Japan was far away. Though the early disasters - the sinking of the battle- ships Prince of Wales and Repulse, the Japanese advance through Malaya and the humiliating fall of Singapore, supposedly an 'impregnable fortress'