William Brockbank Collection relating to medical aspects of the Chindit campaign

  • Reference
      GB 133 BCM
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      28 items
  • Location
      Collection available at the John Rylands Library, Deansgate

Scope and Content

A collection of papers relating to Dr William Brockbank's research into medical aspects of the Chindit campaigns in Burma during the Second World War.

The Chindits (officially Special Force) were British Empire military units which undertook special operations against the Japanese army in Burma between 1943 and 1944. They came under the strategic control of the South East Asia Command, but were operationally part of the Indian Army, and latterly were closely connected with US forces operating in Burma. The Chindits were commanded by Major General Orde Wingate (1903-1944) until his death in an air crash in March 1944.

Wingate developed the idea of Long Range Penetration (LRP) groups which would operate behind enemy lines, disrupting the command and control systems. The Chindits were the practical expression of this concept, and were first deployed in Operation Longcloth in early 1943 and latterly in much greater numbers in Operation Thursday between March and August 1944. Their objectives were to weaken Japanese supply and communication lines in northern Burma to prepare for an eventual Allied counter-offensive (which eventually took place in 1944-5)..

The Chindits were a lightly armed, non-mechanised force who depended on air support and radio communications for their operational independence. Air support was particularly important for resupplying the force with food and equipment. The Chindits suffered high casualty rates, partly through enemy engagements but also through ill-health due to the difficult environments in which they operated. The Chindit campaigns have been the subject of much controversy amongst military historians as to their overall contribution to the ultimately successful British reconquest of Burma.

William Brockbank became interested in the medical history of the Chindit campaigns in the mid-1970s, believing the subject to have been neglected in the official histories. The official history of the Burma campaign had also criticised Orde Wingate for making insufficient provision for medical services. The University of Manchester's Department of Military Studies had developed a research interest in the Chindits during the 1970s, assisted by former Chindit officers such as Peter Mead and Michael Calvert. They took a revisionist view, arguing that Wingate had been unfairly maligned, and that Chindit operations were generally successful when set against their original objectives. Although Brockbank's ultimate intentions with this research are unclear, he issued a questionnaire to former Chindits to collect information about their experiences on sickness and medical support during the campaign.

The collection comprises Brockbank's correspondence with former Chindits including completed copies of the medical questionnaire he had devised. Most of the respondents had participated in the second major Chindits operation "Operation Thursday" from March to August 1944. They included representatives of several brigades, with 16 and 77 Brigade featuring prominently, and various ranks represented (medical and other). This campaign had suffered relatively high casualties through sickness, due in part from having to operate during the 1944 monsoon.

Brockbank was particularly interested in how the Chindits had combated malaria, particularly by using the suppressant mepacrine, but he also investigated other diseases including typhoid, and the state of hygiene faculties, water and food rations, and the treatment of casualties.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Brockbank was educated at Cambridge and Manchester Universities, and qualified in medicine in 1924. Like his father, he became a honorary physician at Manchester Royal Infirmary. He specialised in respiratory diseases and headed the MRI's asthma clinic from 1946 to 1965. Brockbank served with the RAMC during the War, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Brockbank had a long-standing interest in medical history and was the author of several studies about Manchester's medical history including Portrait of a hospital [a history of the Manchester Royal Infirmary] (1952); The honorary medical staff of the Manchester Royal Infirmary, 1830-1948 (1965); The diary of Richard Kay (as editor), (1968); and Nursing at the Manchester Royal Infirmary, 1752-1929 (1970). Brockbank was also honorary archivist at the MRI from 1965 to 1977, and honorary medical archivist at the University of Manchester Library, 1965-1984. He helped maintain the Manchester Medical Collection, and was chairman of the University's medical library committee from 1951 to 1954. William Brockbank died on 12 March 1984.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader unless otherwise stated.

The collection includes material which is subject to the Data Protection Act 2018. The University of Manchester Library (UML) holds the right to process personal data for archiving and research purposes according to the provisions of the Act. In accordance with the DPA, UML has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately. Users of the archive are expected to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998, and will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they will abide by the requirements of the Act in any further processing of the material by themselves.

Archivist's Note

This collection was formerly treated as part of the Peter Mead Papers, series OW/4. However, on examination, there was found to be no relationship of provenance or otherwise with the Mead papers. It is likely that these papers became bundled with Mead's when they were transferred to the Library, probably in the early 1980s. It has been decided to separate this collection, as it was conceived and assembled entirely separately from the Mead and the Library's other Chindit-related collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

It is believed that Brockbank passed these papers to the Library in the late 1970s or early 1980s. They were originally kept with the papers of Peter Mead, which also relate to the Chindit campaigns, but on inspection, it was clear there was no relationship of provenance or previous use which connected the two collections.


None expected.

Related Material

The library holds further collections relating to Wingate and the Burma campaigns:

Geographical Names