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GARDINER, J. Ritchie.

Diary of a Journey from Sumprabum to Margherita by the Chaukkan Pass.

May-July, 1942.

Calcutta: [Private Typescript] 1945 Stock Code: 129617
£2,750.00
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"World War Two's most Daring Jungle Rescue"

188 typescript leaves, privately produced by the author and inscribed "To Jack Graham as a small tribute to the work of the Indian Tea Association and to the many kindness extended to the author by him, from Ritchie. 10. 1/46." A scarce, privately produced account of a treacherous, life-threatening escape from Burma to India after the Japanese invasion, including a diary of events, along with a sizeable prologue and epilogue, written by a Scottish manager of of a timber company in Rangoon. Gardiner suggested in his text that Graham had played a part in the later rescue operation that would bring him to safety at the end of his trip. Two copies have been traced: one in Gardiner's personal papers at the British Library and one in SOAS' Burma Campaign Memorial Library.

This carefully constructed and compellingly written account tells the story of one of the many small groups of British and Indians forced to flee Burma in 1942, a series of events that has been described as the "Dunkirk of the East" (Holly Williams, The Independent, 17 March 2012). Viscount Wavell said at the time that it was "a tale of human suffering, human endeavour and human endurance. No large scale migration of people can surely have taken place in worse conditions" (Forgotten Frontiers, Preface). Gardiner, who had considerable jungle experience, set out with a group of around 10 people, including two other men with long acquaintance with Burmese conditions: Capt. Noel Boyt and a Dutch prospector called Mr Moses, who claimed (to Gardiner's later incredulity) to have a knowledge of the Chaukkan Pass.

It soon became clear that the journey was going to be very trying. The team was beset by hunger, weather, disease, insects and leeches ("I must have picked off 100 at least during the day" p. 71). Things go from bad to worse as he notes, darkly, "one of the Indians in Rossiter's party died this morning, as if to give an additional reminder that we are not on a picnic" (p. 83). Many of Gardiner's fellow travellers perish along the way, including his earlier acquaintance Mr Moses and the 61 year old W.F. (Sonny) Eadon of the Burma China Railways. One of the more dramatic events came on 12th June he "rescued an officer from certain death by drowning at great risk to his own life" and was later awarded the George Medal for this act, which he describes with some modesty in the journal,. The officer in question, John Fraser, would return to Burma to fight in Operation Longcloth.

By the end of the trip, everyone was in very ragged shape (18th June: "I finally looked at my face in Howe's mirror today and got a real shock at the sunken eyes and sullen cheeks" p. 95). But eventually, the weary columns of refugees were brought to safety by a still-legendary rescue operation, lead by Gyles Mackrell of the Indian Tea Association and his menagerie of elephants. On the 22nd June, Gardiner was safe in camp and he "lay back with a pipe of real tobacco - it would be Barney's of course - and felt as though he was already in heaven" (p. 106). Gardiner dedicates the book to Mackrell "without whose efforts, there most probably would have been no diary".

Gardiner's text was the product considerable effort and he describes on several occasions the efforts that he went to in order to produce it, with a detailed prologue and epilogue, discussing many of the finer points with his comrades.

In 2013, the story of this dangerous escape mission was the subject of Andrew Martin's book "Flight by Elephant: The Untold Story of World War Two's most Daring Jungle Rescue". The unpublished account of an experienced jungle-man furnishes the narrative with interesting and often harrowing details.

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Description

Octavo. Original blue cloth, title gilt to front cover, marbled effect end papers.

Condition

A little bumping to spine, a little damp to covers and end papers, text block unaffected. Remains a very good copy.

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