18 June 2013: “The Jungle is Neutral”

The jungle is neutralOne of the greatest war stories of individual enterprise and adventure. – The Daily Express

The year was 1941 and the place Malaya. The Japanese battalion had already entered the country via Kota Bahru and the scene was set for confrontation with the Australian and British troops. Set against this backdrop is the story of an unflappable British soldier Colonel Spencer Chapman – one of several left behind after the Japanese victory – and the creation of a clandestine jungle training ground for a rebel force. This secret army comprised a group of ill-prepared mercenaries known as the Malayan ‘stay-behind’ force and a ragtag band of Chinese, Malays, Tamils and indigenous tribes united by determination to neutralise the Japanese Occupation of terror. It was a bold move made by the remaining British soldiers as they were very much on their own. The British command had more or less washed their hands of them, dismissing the plan as ridiculous and defeatist. In the end, the rebel army managed to kill quite a number of Japanese soldiers before running out of supplies. Many of them died in the skirmish, but Chapman managed to escape on a British submarine. The Jungle is Neutral: A Soldier’s Three-Year Jungle Escape from the Japanese Army tells the story of Chapman’s four year experience in the jungle as part of this makeshift people’s army.

The Jungle is Neutral is a reprint of Chapman’s classic memoir, first published in 1949. Throughout the book, Chapman recalls two very different experiences he encountered on a regular basis: on one hand, he and his comrades faced daring and explosive raids with their faces blackened and guns covered in tape to prevent reflection; on the other hand, they faced a constant battle with the jungle’s constant showers, hostile beasts and tribesmen, lethal disease and hunger. Although the title exudes an unmistakably combative aura, the story slowly unfolds as an astounding story of survival and valor against the odds, or as Chapman’s ex-comrade describes it ‘endurance and survival beyond the normal human capacity for survival.’ Of the book’s title, the author explained that the jungle for most people connoted either hostility or benevolence. ‘The truth is that the jungle is neutral; it provides unlimited cover for friend as well as foe.’ It was thus the perfect environment for underground and covert activities! A tale of adventure, risk, loss, and fear, The Jungle is Neutral offers its readers a personal account of the Japanese Occupation.

The Jungle is Neutral is on sale at Areca Books for RM 48. Please click here for more information, or to purchase.