In 2011 the National Army Museum conducted a poll to decide who merited the title of ‘Britain’s Greatest General’. In the end two men shared the honour. One, predictably, was the Duke of Wellington. The other was Bill Slim. Had he been alive, Slim would have been surprised, for he was the most modest of men – a rare quality among generals. Of all the plaudits heaped on him during his life, the one he valued most was the epithet by which he was affectionately known to the troops: ‘Uncle Bill’.
Born in Bristol in 1891, the son of a small-time businessman, he was commissioned as a temporary Second Lieutenant on the outbreak of the First World War. Seriously wounded twice, in Gallipoli and Mesopotamia, he was awarded the Military Cross in 1918. Between the wars he served in the Indian Army with the Gurkhas and began writing short stories to supplement his income.
Promotion came rapidly with the Second World War, and in March 1942 he was sent to Burma to take command of the First Burma Corps, then in full flight from the advancing Japanese. Through the force of his leadership, Slim turned disorderly panic into a controlled military withdrawal across the border into India. Two years later, having raised and trained the largest army ever assembled by Britain, Slim returned to drive the enemy out of Burma and shatter the myth of Japanese invincibility which had hamstrung Allied operations in the East for so long. Probably the most respected and loved military leader since the Duke of Marlborough, he later became a popular and successful Governor-General of Australia in 1953, was raised to the peerage, and died in London in 1970.
This masterly biography has been written with the full co-operation of the Slim family.
Publication date: 8th August 2013
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