Lieutenant-Colonel Freddy Spencer Chapman was an infantry officer who survived for more than three years in the jungles of occupied Malaya from 1942 to 1945. He told his own version of the story in his memoir The Jungle is Neutral, but this new biography adds many fascinating details of his upbringing and previous adventures.
A solitary and somewhat rebellious boy who developed a love of nature during his schooling in the north of England, Freddy Spencer Chapman first became noted for his qualities of character during the 1930s. He became a mountaineer, and also took part in gruelling expeditions to Greenland and Tibet.
Although most of his combat successes took place in a single “Mad Fortnight”, Freddy Spencer Chapman laid the foundations for several postwar campaigns by developing his expertise in jungle bushcraft and in co-operating with local guerrilla forces, including the Communists under Chin Peng, who would later lead the Communist forces in the Malayan Emergency from 1948 until 1960. (I remember Malaya during the Emergency, and this book is much too friendly to Chin Peng.)
One could probably not use this book as the basis for a novel, because Freddy Spencer Chapman’s life is too well recorded, but it is a valuable source for background on Malaya during the Japanese occupation. While I can’t help wondering whether Spencer Chapman’s victories justify the many casualties among the local Malays, Chinese, and Indians who were killed in reprisals by the Japanese, his life is an absorbing and often uncomfortable study in how strength of will can enable a man to survive suffering and privations almost beyond belief.