Like the ancient Greeks who were outnumbered by Persian hordes at the battle of Thermopylae, a motley gathering of British and Indian troops was almost overpowered at Kohima, but managed to resist the Japanese forces intent on taking India. Only a regiment, not a whole division, of Japanese soldiers was expected, and the struggle was bitter and prolonged.

“Fatigue was the greatest danger,” writes Fergal Keane in this comprehensive, moving, very fair account. Unlike the Greeks, the Allied troops were not betrayed. “Road of bones” was the name given to the trail of death that followed the Japanese troops retreating into Burma.

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