Reporting the Retreat

War Correspondents in Burma 1942

February 2017 9781849047173 240pp


The British defeat in Burma at the hands of the Japanese in 1942 precipitated the longest retreat in British military history and the onset of its most drawn-out campaign of World War II. It also marked the beginning of the end of British rule, not only in Burma but also in south and south-east Asia.

There have been many studies of military and civilian experiences during the retreat but this is the first book to look at the way the campaign was represented in the Western media: newspapers, pictorial magazines, and newsreels. There were some twenty-six accredited war correspondents covering the campaign, and almost half of them wrote books about their experiences, mostly within a year or two of the defeat. Their accounts were censored by government officials as being misinformed and sensationalist. More recent historians, on the other hand, have criticised them for being too patriotic and optimistic in their coverage and thus giving the public an unrealistic view of how the war was progressing.

Philip Woods returns to the original sources to assess the validity of these criticisms. His is the first re-evaluation of the war correspondents’ role in Burma and as such will be of great value to historians of conflict and students of journalism and media.


‘This clearly-written book will be useful not only to those people interested in the early phases of the war in Burma but also those who wish to understand the challenges of journalists who still find themselves in the ‘fog of war’ during 21st century conflicts.’ — New Books Asia

‘At last, a new angle on the Burma campaign. Philip Woods offers an entirely fresh perspective by focusing on the war correspondents who were there, offering an intimate portrait of momentous events. In so doing, the book sheds new light on the activities of the colonial government and the maligned Governor, the plight of fleeing civilians, and the actions of imperial armed forces.’ — Ashley Jackson, Professor of Imperial and Military History, Defence Studies Department, King’s College London

‘Reporting the Retreat is a brilliant book. It is meticulously researched, clearly written and cogently argued. Every student of late-colonial Burma or war reportage should read it. Woods weaves both strands into an elegant “history from the side.” He manages to judge colonial politicians, military leaders and war correspondents with magisterial authority and deep humanity.’ — Michael D. Leigh, Research Associate, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; author of The Evacuation of Civilians from Burma: Analysing the 1942 Colonial Disaster


Philip Woods studied History at LSE and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He has published on British–Indian politics after World War I, and the British use of film as propaganda in India. He has taught at the University of West London, Kingston University and continues to teach at NYU in London.

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