The Jungle Is Neutral

Major Chapman, the author of The Jungle is Neutral: A Soldier’s Two-Year Escape from the Japanese Army, among other books, is of a classic type found throughout the British Empire in its heyday. Strong, largely self-educated, not suited for highly organized environments, not particularly introspective, a keen judge of people, and a man who by the time he was thirty had climbed the Alps, been on several polar expeditions, traveled over Tibet and British India, hiked through Lapland, and in general been a daredevil. He taught himself to speak at least half a dozen languages including Eskimo, (the language he kept his diary in), Tibetan, enough Chinese to get along, Malay as well as the dialect spoken by the mountain tribesman who sheltered him. He also sketched, was an amateur botanist, collected flowers, seeds, various types of plants, kept a meteorological log, drew maps, counted species of birds, and had an intimate familiarity with what plants and animals including the very important ability to know what plants were edible and which plants were poisonous. One of his regrets is that he lost part of his diary when the Japanese seized him and the damn Japanese took away his sketchbook in which he had pressed all the different types of flowers he had found and drawn different species of birds he had discovered. When he escaped from the Japanese, he had to leave those things behind.

He also wrote a number of books, was a photographer of distinction, especially skilled in photography in extreme climates, a film maker, shooting several documentaries in wild locales and a much in demand lecturer on his adventures. Of his many travels before the war, friends speculated he was an agent for British Military Intelligence along with his other duties which makes sense.

In this extraordinary passage from his book, I gained some insight into his determination to survive:

I have a theory, which I have never yet disproved, that on level ground or downhill one can always go on as long as consciousness lasts. There never comes a time when one literally cannot go another step. Of course, as in any other form of overdraft, one has to pay up afterwards, but as long as a man is reasonably fit the capabilities of the human body are almost unlimited—as I knew from my acquaintance with polar exploration.

Think about the last part of the first sentence which he writes in such a matter-of-fact way: “as long as consciousness lasts.” Freddie Chapman clearly had few limitations. I will write more about the fascinating life of this Renaissance man in the future as I learn more about him. Sadly, he felt unfulfilled in life. I can only imagine he suffered from depression, the “black dog” Winston Churchill dubbed it, a disease I know well. Although in good health, Frederick Spencer Chapman shot himself on 8 August 1971, age sixty-four.

[Source: The Jungle is Neutral: A Soldier’s Two-Year Escape from the Japanese Army by F. Spencer Chapman.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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