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.