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|