Friday, February 19, 2016

The Railway Man and the Thai-Burma Railway

Last night I watched a 2013 British film, The Railway Man.  The film is the story of Eric Lomax (Colin Firth), a man who has always loved trains.  In 1980, he meets an enchanting woman on a train (Patti, played by Nicole Kidman.  They fall in love, but then Patti learns a dark secret that Eric has hidden.  As a young man, he was a in the British signal officer who was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore (the younger Lomax is played by Jeremy Irvine.  Along with other British soldiers, he is taken north through Malaysia and into Thailand where they are put to work on the Thai-Burma railroad.  At first, as an engineer, he is treated better than many of the other prisoners, but when the Japanese find a radio he and his fellow engineers have built to listen to the news of the war, he is brutally beaten.  Through it all, Nagase is a Japanese interpreter who is very brutal.  The movie depicts the suffering of those working on the railway and some of the brutality of the torture, but doesn’t linger long with it.  As the film jumps back and forth from the 40s to the 80s, it becomes apparent that Lomax is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Patti, now his wife, is determined to save her husband.  She seeks help from another former POW, who tells her Eric’s story. 

Train in Kanchanaburi before crossing the bridge

The Bridge over the River Kwai Noi 
In the end of the movie, Eric goes back to Thailand and encounters Nagase, who has become a tour guide at the site of the infamous railway over the River Kwai (the river’s actual name is Kwai Noi).  The encounter is intense, but eventually the two are able to make peace with their past.
I enjoyed the movie (but then it stars Nicole Kidman).   I especially enjoyed the views of him returning to Thailand and taking the train that runs on the Thai-Burma line.  That line no longer runs to Burma, stopping about 10 km from the border, but from what I’ve read (now that things have stabilized in Burma), there is plans to reconnect Thailand to Burma by railroad.  This was a unique feat, not just the bridge but how they attached a causeway to a rock mountainside running above the river, and then how they dug (without dynamite) through rock.  Lomax returns to ride this train which I got to enjoy when I was in Thailand in 2011.  For more insight into the movie and the real Eric Lomax (who was a POW), check out this review in the Guardian.  

Looking at railway between rock and river

At the site of the bridge, there is a museum about the Japanese POW camps.  I found the museum to be lacking and tacky.  Throughout it, was the quote, “The phenomenon of war brings adverse effects on society, as if to justify what happened to thousands of Dutch, British, Indian and Malay soldiers during the building of the railway.  They did show some of the brutality, but it was limited.  They mentioned the Japanese forcing POWs to march out onto the bridge during air attacks, where many were killed by “friendly fire” as the British and American armies kept destroying the bridge as a way to limit supplies going to the Japanese army in Burma.  The museum also downplayed Thailand’s role in the war.  Although they tried to say they were neutral, they allowed the Japanese free reign with the country, including the landing of soldiers who were used in the Malay campaign and the building of a railway with POW labor.  There was a display in the museum that said Thailand women didn’t have anything to fear from the Japanese soldiers.  It also acknowledged that the Japanese had women from Korea and Manchuria, but conveniently left out the enslavement of these “comfort women.”  In this area, there are a number of large cemeteries with of 10,000s of POWs from the British Empire and the Netherlands (who came from the surrender of Indonesia) who died as a prisoners.   The photos are of my 2011 overland trip from Singapore to Europe.
Cemetery with British, Canadian and Dutch POWs

37 comments:

  1. That movie sounds really intense but I imagine the leads are great. They are both amazing actors.

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    1. Although the war component in the movie is intense, they don't over do it (except for the water boarding scene).

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  2. I never watch movies, but I actually did see this one! I like Firth, so that's probably how my husband talked me into it. Too violent for my taste, but it was a good story.

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    1. There was some violence, but I did think it was a good story

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    1. That part of Thailand is beautiful--lots of waterfalls and rivers.

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  4. I am reminded of part of the exhibits at Corregidor Island in Manila Bay. Although American's were taken on the full tour, the Japanese tourists only went on a tiny fraction of the tour and those exhibits were really sanitized and kind of like what you described above. Being American and knowing we have similar atrocities in our history such as slavery and exterminating the Indians, I think it is important that we are reminded of what our ancestors did so that we don't commit similar acts ourselves.

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    1. THat is interesting--having the Japanese only in part of the exhibits... In Korea, the exhibits are also pretty rough and there were plenty of Japanese visitors there. I agree, we all have a past that hopefully we can avoid repeating

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  5. I like Nicole Kidman but I haven't seen this one.

    I wouldn't want to cross that bridge on that train.The scenery is lovely though.

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    1. The trestle wasn't bad at all, but the causeway that stood at the base of a cliff and over the edge of the river was the scariest, but the train moved slowly over this.

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  6. I like Nicole Kidman but I haven't seen this one.

    I wouldn't want to cross that bridge on that train.The scenery is lovely though.

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  7. I saw this movie. It was very powerful. I enjoyed seeing your photos.

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    1. Thanks, it is a beautiful place in the world

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  8. I never heard of this movie and can't imagine how it slipped past me, but it does sound intriguing.

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    1. I don't know if it was big in the US--it is more of a British movie

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  9. Singapore to Europe must have been a fascinating trip. I'd love to know more about it.

    The movie sounds interesting, especially in comparison to what is surely the far gentler Bridge on the River Kwai.

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    1. During that trip, I had another blog (Jeff-ridingrails.blogspot.com)... Yes, they did try to show a more realistic setting than Bridge on the River Kwai

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    2. Thanks for directing me to your other blog! I'll definitely check it out.

      I just finished Volume 2 of Shigeru Mizuki's outstanding Showa series. There is a chapter on the invasion of the Malay peninsula, including the destruction of railroads and bridges by the British troops as they retreated south.

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    3. I have not read Mizuki's, but I did read a book (and reviewed it) by the Japanese Operations Officer for the Malay campaign. I took the railraod from Singapore to Kota Buhru which was essentially the path the Japanese took in their march downt eh peninsula. review: Myhttp://sagecoveredhills.blogspot.com/2011/06/japans-greatest-victory-britains-worst.html

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    4. I have spent a little time in that part of the world but not enough. Singapore is fascinating. My time in Malaysia was mostly spent relaxing on the beach - not a bad thing at all, mind you, though I'd love to explore Southeast Asia more one day.

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  10. The surrender of the Far East to Japan created one hell of a logistical headache. It was way more of a headache than had they fought yes there would've been Japanese losses but they could've locked the garrison on Singapore together with the Malay army and sent a squadron of bombers over and pounded it daily. They would've had an old fashioned siege which would've starved the British and the population to death. With the loss of the two ships they were broken. Not that the ships could've stood up to planes as seen with the German navy surface fleet locked in ports and fjords. But it gave them backbone. They would eventually of course have been obliterated.

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    1. It was amazing the British was caught so flat--unlike Pearl Harbor, where it was only bombs, in Malay, they were fighting and could never form a line to stop the southward march toward Singapore.

      Interestingly, it was the success of the British and American submarine navy that forced the Japanese to build the Thai-Burma railroad to supply their soldiers in Burma. Once Singapore fell, submarines sank a high percentage of goods the Japanese were shipping to Burma, forcing the Japanese to ship supplies overland. The Japanese soldiers in Burma suffered and starved (and even ate their dead) due to the lack of supplies getting through.

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  11. My grandson and DiL are in Chang Mai right now, for about another month so they must be pretty close to this because her pops farm is north of Chang Mai. If there was ever a war theater full of atrocities it was the Pacific--from front to finish and I can easily believe that many places have a sanitized history on display.

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    1. Chang Mai is in north Thailand and this area is to the west of Bangkok. I would love to get to Chang Mai one day.

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  12. Sounds interesting, I'll have to look up the movie on Amazon Prime. While I'm a bit of a history nerd, I don't know very much about the events that occurred in that region during WW2. I certainly didn't know about Thai government letting the Japanese run through their country.

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    1. Not only did the Japanese have free movement in Thailand, but once France fell, they had access to Vietnam and Cambodia (and it was from these bases, they were able to attack south--if I remember correctly, the two British battleships they sunk early in the Singapore campaign was from planes flown from bases in Cambodia.)

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  13. Goodness, how ever did I miss this one. Thanks for sharing this, I'm going to have to check this out as well, it's just my kind of movie too.

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  14. How on earth did I miss this film? Thanks for the review. I shall look it up.

    Greetings from London.

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    1. I hope you'll enjoy it. I would have thought it would have received more play in the UK

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  15. I really enjoyed this film, excellent and informative showing a wonderful personal journey for Eric Lomax.

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    1. I agree about this personal journey--his eventual forgiveness and friendship with his Japanese torturer was interesting.

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  16. I'll put this on my ever lengthening list of films to see. :)

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  17. Blessings......
    hmmmmmm....I haven't seen or heard of either, one would think i live under a rock. I haven't watch movies in a while, a bit to predictable.

    Sounds interesting though.
    thanks for sharing.
    Rhapsody

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  18. I've not seen it, or heard of it until just now. It looks and sounds like a good one, so I'm going to try and find it.

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  19. I'm surprised I haven't heard of this one. I enjoy British movies and I like Kidman's work.

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