A few years ago in another job I had the task of cataloguing a collection of about 100 Far East Prisoner of War memoirs. These stories of the terrible hardship suffered by military and civilian prisoners at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Forces during the Second World War were difficult – and humbling – to read, but truly showed how strong the human survival instinct is.
One book that wasn’t part of this collection was Eric Lomax’s The Railway Man. I always wanted to read it, but was hesitant. I honestly didn’t know if I wanted to read another FEPOW story. The other week I watched the recent film adaptation starring Colin Firth. It was a perfectly okay film, yet I knew there must be more in the book.
I requested the book, and am glad I did. Many aspects were familiar to me – capture at Singapore, time in Changi, being moved into the jungle to work on the Burma-Siam railway – but this book was different and not just because of the torture that Lomax endured. The story does not end at the end of the war; it goes on into great detail about the effects of his wartime experiences on his life and ultimately ends with forgiveness and friendship.
It is these aspects that set this book apart and make it a classic. If you’ve only seen the film, do read the book. If you haven’t seen the film, do read the book. But whatever you do be prepared to be appalled, astonished and deeply moved.