I have just started reading ‘Burma 44’ by the author James Holland and I literally only got through to not even the first 60 pages and I spotted something I wanted to write about, morale. What I took from the book was at the time in Burma, in 1944, the men of the ‘Fourteenth Army’ were commanded by ‘General William Slim.’ Before his appointment, ‘The Fourteenth Army’ had become the ‘Forgotten Army’ as it was not appreciated back home.

The morale of the troops at the time was at an all time low, and he knew that morale at the time was a state of mind and in some ways intangible, but, he came to realise that good morale was based on what he thought were three clear foundations: spiritual, intellectual and material. He liked the idea of this theme and warmed to it, he then decided to write down, what each part meant.

The spiritual foundation, this was the task at hand, Slim himself thought that the task at hand was a noble one, and they had to smash and destroy what he believed to be an evil thing. He needed to get his men, the Fourteenth Army, to believe that, and understand the necessity of this and each and every one of them must be brought to recognise the importance of the part he had to play.

Intellectually, it was essential that each man believed, that the task could be achieved. He had to believe that he was well-trained, and that the Japanese soldier was in no way his superior. What also was important was fostering confidence in the commanders; each man had to believe that whatever dangers and hardships he would be called upon to suffer, his life would not be flung away.

The last one was the material component of morale, the men had to feel they were being as well equipped as possible, and that logistic support was good as it feasibly could be.

General William Slim spoke to as many men as possible, as many as three to four times a day. They had to be of a mind and to speak as one.

He made no promises; rather he told the men why they were doing what they were doing, explained the myriad of difficulties facing them, and the logistical challenges, but he also told them how they were being solved. As far as possible, he put them in the picture as to future plans and the wider situation; he wanted them to understand that the mission was achievable, that he, his commanders and all in SEAC were working towards this common goal.

Two things only were necessary: first to know what you were talking about, and, second and most important, to believe in yourself.

That’s another lesson learnt, even in what we do today, the above sentence, still applies today..


‘Burma 44’, James Holland.

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