Book Review: Another Man’s War by Barnaby Phillips

“The news spread around Emure-Ile, and then around Owo, first among Isaac’s relatives and then his school friends. Over time, “Missing in Action” became ‘Had Not Seen’. The British Army Had Not Seen Isaac.”  – Another Man’s War

Setting the scene in Nigeria, 1941, Another Man’s War, paints a picture of a life changing event in Nigeria’s history. At the peak of the Second World War, the British Army was to recruit soldiers from the Western Coast of Africa, also calling it the Royal African Frontier Force. A boy of 17, from a small rural village Emure-Ile, would join the force and pledge allegiance to the King, without knowing much about the cause of the war. Isaac Fadoyebo, would later blame his hasty decision on ‘youth exuberance’. Isaac couldn’t have predicted that a war that will take him across the seas, a war he saw as an opportunity for adventure, would be the war that will change him for the rest of his life, at a very ripe age of 19.

Another Man’s War, is a beautifully written account, which transports you back to the early 1940s, in the heat of Nigeria’s rural landscape, detailing the innocent ignorance of the locals yet the incomparable valour of the youth that enabled them to sign up for an unknown adventure, into a war ridden jungle, where the Japanese were praised to be undefeated fighters. In his account, years later, Isaac would fondly recall his opposition as “[The Japanese] very good fighters. The Japanese people, they fight to the last man, the last ammunition, the last drop of blood. Oh, they are dogged fighters.”

Barnaby Phillips, determined to get Isaac’s story out, to revive a forgotten hero, produces a book which is intensely researched, bringing together a number of characters. These perspectives particularly help the reader understand how the war impacted the British, as well as the African soldiers, equally. They shared the same fears, similar letters from home and same human insecurities, around campfires as black and white became one. The divisions of race were diminished by the adverse conditions the soldiers, both white and black, found themselves in. It was a raw state of war and became the best example of the bond of humanity, more than any other link.

Isaac, stranded behind enemy lines, in the thick Arakan jungle, during Britain’s ‘Burma Campaign’ during the Second World War, survived nine months, severely injured, at the mercy of generous locals. Another Man’s War takes you to the tragic time Isaac spent in a purpose-built shelter, in the very wet Arakan, with a bullet in his right knee and another in his left side. He and another one of the comrades, David Kargbo, together cheated death.

Another Man’s War, tells a story of a forgotten hero, who’s medals are ‘Not Yet Decided’ by the British Army, but nevertheless, he took pride in his participation in the Burma Campaign, without knowing the campaigns significance in the bigger picture. The title of the book being self-explanatory, Isaac fought another man’s war, without knowing its full extent.

The detailed account of Isaac’s story, serves as a hanger where other accounts accompany the drama, accounts from British officers, accounts from African soldiers, the thousands who left behind wives, and families, not knowing their fate or the certainty of return, the soldiers found solace in faith and songs from home, as they made new acquaintances in the new lands they came across. On their return, the soldiers were to come back with new-found knowledge and self-confidence and importance. This would later drive momentum for the struggle for independence in many African states. The Second World War was a war between two great empires, the British and the Japanese, little was known of the pivotal impact it would have on the politics of many countries involved, eventually leading to the ultimate collapse of the British Empire.

Phillips writes a poignant tale of an individual caught in the midst of world politics, which is bound to be similar to many others. It is an attempt to revive our forgotten heroes and the generation that forfeited what they held close, and to recognise these sacrifices.

Another Man’s War is available on Amazon, in Paperback and Kindle versions. The documentary can be viewed on Youtube.

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