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Book review: Good read on 1942 escape from Burma

In Flight by Elephant, Andrew Martin tells the incredible story of a Second World War rescue mission in Japanese-occupied Burma.

In the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Burma in 1942, tens of thousands of British colonists and their Indian and Chinese servants were forced into a desperate flight to safety towards India.

Facing monsoon rains, leeches and a host of unpleasant tropical diseases on their march through the jungle, they died by the score along the treacherous tracks.

Coming to the rescue of a particularly imperiled party of refugees was Gyles Mackrell, a 53-year-old Royal Air Force veteran-turned-tea plantation owner in India, and his herd of 20 elephants.

While this is a tale of great heroism that deserves to be retold, the author unfortunately narrates it at such a leisurely pace, one sometimes doesn't feel exhilarated by Mackrell's daring exploits.

Also, Martin - who is best known for his fictional detective books - tends to flesh out what he's gleaned from Mackrell's personal diaries with plenty of conjecture about his subject's innermost thoughts, which at times feels slightly contrived.

Nevertheless, those with a fondness for wartime adventure stories should find this a satisfying read.

* Hugo Berger

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