Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia 1941-1945 by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper Allen Lane $375 This is an ambitious and moving account of events leading up to the collapse of the British Empire in Asia. While those events continue to shape the region, the book's relevance to Hong Kong readers may be limited. Despite the subtitle's promise to explore the 'fall of Asia', the occupation of Hong Kong is scarcely mentioned, except in brief asides during discussions about Singapore. In the preface, Bayly and Harper make it clear they're more interested in the crescent from India, around through Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia down to Singapore. A second query concerns the use of the word 'forgotten'. The armies referred to in the title are British, Japanese, Indian, Burmese and Malay soldiers, as well as the overseas Chinese fighting against the Japanese through direct action, remitting money home or by becoming refugees, nurses, slave labourers, prisoners and comfort women. In what sense have these armies been forgotten? And by whom? The answer to the second part of the question seems clear: these are armies forgotten in Britain. This book reminds a western readership of the sacrifice and cruelty of the war outside the European theatre. It's wrong to suggest these things have been forgotten in Asia. It's true many are hesitant to go over the horrors of the war - comfort women spring to mind. But not talking about isn't the same as forgetting. Quibbles aside, this is an impressive book. The authors are scrupulously even-handed, and have an iron grip on their source material, which includes diary accounts and letters, as well as official documents. They weave personal stories into a wider narrative of war, politics and the collapse of an empire. Their research is extremely well organised. The structure is chronological, not geographical, and strands of the story from different parts of the great crescent are pulled together in such a way that they throw light on one another, and reveal interesting connections. Despite its complexity, the book is easy to use, thanks to a summary of the key characters, maps and photos. For readers in Asia, glimpses of the world we now live in will be everywhere apparent. The authors mention that, when the causeway linking Singapore with the Malayan mainland was blown up, the explosion could be heard all over the city. A Briton asked some passing Chinese boys what the noise was. One boy replied: 'That is the end of the British Empire.' His name? Lee Kuan Yew.