A memoir released this year details the horrors of the Burma campaign during the Second World War. ZOIE O'BRIEN details the life of the man known as Reluctant Q. 

Climbing into a trench and tying a wire round his ankle and arm, the Battery Quatermaster Sergeant gave one tug, alerting the men either side him that he had arrived.

A silent wait began deep in the Burmese jungle.

Dreaming of his wife and son – and the daughter he had never spoken to – George Spill was determined he would make it home.

Waiting, silently, he dreaded the thought of hand-to-hand combat with the Japanese. It was 1944 and he was a reluctant soldier.

George Spill grew up in Capworth Street, Leyton.

He and his sister Grace spent their youth playing in fields at the Lea Bridge Road end of Dunton Road.

Years later, on the outbreak of the Second World War, Mr Spill was married with a son and was training to be an accountant.

He was set to take his final exams when on October 15, 1940, his call up papers arrived.

After training in Shoeburyness, Mr Spill, known to his colleagues by the nickname Q, was deployed to a base in Quetta, Pakistan with the Royal Artillery.

In 1942 the squadron travelled by road and train through India to battle.

They headed for Bangalore as the Japanese were trying to advance through Burma – and it was their job to stop them.

The troops travelled hundreds of miles, visiting the Kola Goldfields, the small settlement of Ootacamund in the Blue Mountains and crossing the river Brahmaputra.

This year, Mr Spill’s son Nick published his father’s war memoirs Reluctant Q.

Throughout the book he remembers the tough conditions British soldiers endured in Burma.

 He wrote: “The jungle was so dense it was possible to get lost 100 yards from camp.

“It was impossible to tell who was jaundiced or who hadn’t washed. Many men suffered dysentery and weeping sores on their legs.

“When we first arrived in Burma a Japanese Zero buzzed our unit. Instead of the fighter plane firing at us, it dropped a load of colour photographs. We picked them up and we saw British prisoners of war tied up and kneeling on the ground beheaded by Japanese officers with long swords.

 “I had always dreaded the thought of suddenly being confronted with a choice of life or death, kill or be killed.

“We dreaded the thought of meeting them and engaging in hand-to-hand combat.”

In the memoir Mr Spill reminisces about ration packs containing cigarettes, toilet paper and candles arriving from the United States and men who became his closest friends, who then were killed by shells or died of malaria.

Mr Spill named his son Nick after a man he fought alongside.


Moving along the hills, trying to push the Japanese back, the British army and the Gurkhas were down to their last men.

War raged across Manipur as British-led Allies defended themselves against the Japanese invasion.

The men were in the Imphal area – the gateway to India – when the final battle took place.

Mr Spill remembered: “At the far end of their supply line they were desperate. The Japs had no food, little ammo but their bayonets and swords and their courage.

“Without the rum I did not have such courage. I just wanted to get it over with. I had so much to live for and was sick of all the carnage and the senseless waste of life around us.

“Waves of Japs stormed us. They seemed to come from everywhere and did not stop charging and screaming their battle cries. My Bren gun barrel should have melted that night.

 “It was not until the morning of the third day that we were exhausted and could fight no longer. Hills had changed hands several times and there was great loss of life. The remnants of the Burma Japanese Army slunk back into the jungle.

“We had defeated the Imperial Japanese Army, their first ever defeat.

“The most significant cause of the Japanese failure to succeed in their objective was the effect of the monsoon of 1944 on their extended lines of communication.”

The ultimate defeat of the Japanese at Imphal and Kohima, halted their progress to Delhi and proved to be a turning point in the Burma Campaign in the war.

Four years after he left, George Spill could go home.

“Full of embarrassment at the sight of each other, my family devoured me and I them. I embraced my wife and son I had not seen for four years and my new daughter,” Mr Spill remembered.

He and his wife Olive later moved to New Zealand, where they opened successful businesses.

On the last night of his life George Spill confessed to his son he had killed 46 Japanese men in one night in Burma.

He died aged 97.