Probably the most valuable lesson any aspiring historian can absorb is that one doesn’t know what one doesn’t know. This I learned back in 1991, when working with 6th Queen Elizabeth’s Own Gurkha Rifles at Cassino Lines, a then-remote British Army camp in the northern New Territories. The regiment had fought in the Burma campaign in 1944-45; an annual day off commemorated a decisive victory over the Japanese at the Battle of Mogaung, in June 1944. Two Victoria Crosses had been awarded during that engagement – one, posthumously, to a British officer, Captain Michael Allmand, and another to a Gurkha, Rifleman Tul Bahadur Pun. With the passage of time, Captain Allmand’s family wished to present his medal to the regiment, and a ceremonial parade was organised; the governor, David Wilson, received the salute. Various “old and bold” personalities from the Burma campaign were invited to Hong Kong to attend. And so, late one morning, an elderly, very English Englishman strode into my office on his way to explore the camp. Then nearly 80, he chattered loudly in not-bad Cantonese with the Chinese amah who brought some tea, and reminisced colourfully about the colony as it was more than half a century earlier. I was completely fascinated, until ignorance undid me. “Have you been up around the tunnels at Shing Mun?” he asked. I confessed that I hadn’t – co-authoring a slim book on Hong Kong’s wartime sites was still some years into the future. “Not much point talking to you about it then, eh – hah!” he chuckled. He gulped down his tea and proceeded on his walk. And that was that. I had no idea who this apparition had been until lunchtime, when someone mentioned that “Mad Mike” – James Michael Calvert – was abroad in the place. Posted to Hong Kong with the Royal Engineers in 1934, Calvert later helped oversee construction of the fixed defences at Shing Mun, in the hills above Tsuen Wan, known post-war as the Gin Drinker’s Line – hence his question, and disappointed snort. Calvert had served with the famed Chindit guerilla column in Burma, whose combat exploits against the Japanese became legendary. Extraordinarily brave, he was decorated numerous times. Nevertheless, his later career never fulfilled its potential. Having enjoyed a cracking war, Calvert was unable to adapt to peacetime’s monotony. A brief posting to Malaya in 1950, at the height of the Chinese Communist-fomented Emergency, was not a success. Insufficiently promoted, he quickly became bored and hit the bottle; periodic alcoholism blighted the rest of his life. Charged with homosexual offences while posted in Germany in 1952, he was discharged from the army and jailed. While Calvert was indeed gay, strong suspicions remain that he was actually framed by insider ill-wishers, who simply wanted to get rid of a tiresome nuisance. Upon release, he sank into depression, started boozing again, and for a while lived rough among tramps in Australia; a tragic comedown for one of the Pacific war’s most highly decorated veterans. Eventually, he pulled himself together, returned to England, and an academic research post was found for him, to write his account of the Chindits – he completed three books on the Burma Campaign. His gripping memoir Fighting Mad: One Man’s Guerrilla War (1964) was an international bestseller, did much to rehabilitate Calvert’s reputation, and introduced this legendary figure to a generation unaware of his heroic exploits. A later biography, Mad Mike: A Life of Brigadier Michael Calvert (1990), by David Rooney, saw a further revival of interest. Calvert died in 1998, and Tul Bahadur Pun in 2011.