Lomax was among thousands of POWs forced by the Japanese to construct the Thailand-Burma line during second world war
Eric Lomax in 1996 with his memoir, The Railway Man, which is being adapted for a film.
Prisoner of war Eric Lomax, whose moving memoir about working on the “death railway” in Thailand has been turned into a film starring Colin Firth, has died at the age of 93.
Lomax, who was captured at the fall of Singapore in 1942, was among thousands of servicemen who were used as slave labour by the Japanese on the railway.
Years later he came to terms with his treatment by meeting his interrogator from torture sessions and writing about his experiences in his book, The Railway Man.
Lomax, who was from Edinburgh, died in the early hours of Monday morning in Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Rachel Cugnoni, of his publisher, Vintage Books, said: “The Railway Man was one of the landmark books of the 1990s.
“It tells Eric’s incredible and moving story with grace, modesty and exceptional humility. All characteristics Eric had as a man.
“It is a book that stands as a testament to the great capacity of the human spirit for forgiveness and we are honoured to have published it.”
His book has been adapted this year for a movie in which Oscar-winning star Firth plays him in later life, with Jeremy Irvine playing him in his younger days.
Lomax was a signals officer who was captured with many other Allies in Singapore and held at the island’s Changi jail. He was then taken to the Thai town of Kanchanaburi, where he worked on the railway link to Burma.
The horrific conditions of the prisoners as they built the line, with a terrible loss of life, famously formed the basis of David Lean’s 1957 film, The Bridge On The River Kwai.
Lomax endured savage beatings when guards found a radio he had helped to build within his prison camp.
He went on to become a lecturer at Strathclyde University, but was haunted by his treatment and met the interpreter who had interrogated him while he was tortured, Takashi Nagase, after he wrote about his remorse in a book.
Lomax’s wife, Patti, contacted Nagase and both men returned to Kanchanaburi to meet in 1993 and eventually became friends.
Andy Paterson, the producer of the new film, said: “The cast and crew of The Railway Man are deeply saddened to hear of Eric Lomax’s death. All our thoughts today are with his family.
“We remember with great pleasure Eric’s and Patti’s visit to the set in Berwick-upon-Tweed just a few months ago.
“In true Eric style he was intensely interested in the arcane machinery of filmmaking and keen to know the gauge of the track along which our camera crane ran.
“Eric spoke for thousands of men who felt their service and sacrifice had gone unnoticed.
“Whilst we are heartbroken that he will not be with us at the premiere, he lived long enough to see some early images from the film and to share our hopes that this new version of his story will help ensure that the men who suffered with him – and the families who had to cope with the legacy – would never be forgotten.”
Lomax was born on 30 May 1919 in Edinburgh and was a Royal Signals officer attached to the 5th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. He was commissioned into the Royal Corps of Signals in 1940 and was a lieutenant when he was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore.
In 1945, Lomax returned to Edinburgh following three and half years of interrogation and torture. He was awarded the Efficiency Medal (Militia) in 1949 and was granted the honorary rank of captain.
Lomax wrote about his experiences during the war and his reconciliation with one of his former torturers on the The Forgiveness Project website, which is a UK charity that explores how reconciliation can be used to help people’s lives.
He wrote: “After my retirement in 1982, I started searching for information about what had happened in Siam. The need to know is powerful. In the course of my search I learnt that Nagase Takashi – my interrogator and torturer – had offered to help others with information.
“I learnt that he was still alive, active in charitable works, and that he had built a Buddhist temple. I was sceptical. I couldn’t believe in the notion of Japanese repentance. I strongly suspected that if I were to meet him I’d put my hands round his neck and do him in.
“After our meeting I felt I’d come to some kind of peace and resolution. Forgiveness is possible when someone is ready to accept forgiveness. Some time the hating has to stop.”
Buy ‘The Railway Man’ Here
A naive young man, a railway enthusiast and radio buff, was caught up in the fall of the British Empire at Singapore in 1942. He was put to work on the ‘Railway of Death’ – the Japanese line from Thailand to Burma. Exhaustively and brutally tortured by the Japanese for making a crude radio, Lomax was emotionally ruined by his experiences. Almost 50 years after the war, however, his life was changed by the discovery that his interrogator, the Japanese interpreter, was still alive – their reconciliation is the culmination of this extraordinary story.
A profound and beautifully written story…one of the most moving accounts to have come out of the Second World War (Sunday Times )
This book has to be read (Independent )
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
47 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars - A harrowing though ultimately uplifting account.
21 April 2004
By A. B. Pearl
This account of the author’s experiences as a Japanese prisoner of war is, as you’d expect, a fairly harrowing one. But what lifts this remarkable tale is the book’s humanity and compassion, and the tenderness of its narrative.
Whether Eric Lomax is re-living his childhood fascination with steam locomotives and trams, or describing the horrendous, inhuman acts of torture, the prose are consistently imbued with an almost poetic and innocent sense of wonder.
The details, observations and character sketches are authentically and vividly drawn.
But it is the final passages of this book which document the author’s determination to come face to face with one of his torturers,that make this extraordinary book so moving, compelling and ultimately uplifting.
See: Lomax tale staggering, admits Firth
“Some time the hating has to stop.”
Photography by Brian Moody
During the Second World War Eric Lomax was tortured by the Japanese on the Burma-Siam Railway. 50 years later he met one of his tormentors. His book, The Railway Man, tells the story.
If you are a victim of torture you never totally recover. You may cope with the physical damage, but the psychological damage stays with you forever.
In 1945 I returned to Edinburgh to a life of uncertainty, following three and half years of fear, interrogation and torture as a POW in the Far East. I had no self-worth, no trust in people, and lived in a world of my own. The privacy of the torture victim is more impregnable than any island fortress. People thought I was coping, but inside I was falling apart. I became impossible to live with; it was as if the sins my captors had sown in me were being harvested in my family. I also had intense hatred for the Japanese, and was always looking for ways and means to do them down. In my mind I often thought of my hateful interrogator. I wanted to drown him, cage him and beat him – as he had done to me.
After my retirement in 1982, I started searching for information about what had happened in Siam. The need to know is powerful. In the course of my search I learnt that Nagase Takashi – my interrogator and torturer – had offered to help others with information. I learnt that he was still alive, active in charitable works, and that he had built a Buddhist temple. I was skeptical. I couldn’t believe in the notion of Japanese repentance. I strongly suspected that if I were to meet him I’d put my hands round his neck and do him in.
My turning point came in 1987 when I came across The Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture. For the first time I was able to unload the hate that had become my prison. Seeing the change in me, my wife wrote to Nagase. The letter he wrote back was full of compassion, and I think at that moment I lost whatever hard armour I had wrapped around me and began to think the unthinkable.
The meeting took place in 1998 in Kanburi, Thailand. When we met Nagase greeted me with a formal bow. I took his hand and said in Japanese, “Good Morning Mr Nagase, how are you?” He was trembling and crying, and he said over and over again: “I am so sorry, so very sorry.” I had come with no sympathy for this man, and yet Nagase, through his complete humility, turned this around. In the days that followed we spent a lot of time together, talking and laughing. It transpired that we had much in common. We promised to keep in touch and have remained friends ever since.
After our meeting I felt I’d come to some kind of peace and resolution. Forgiveness is possible when someone is ready to accept forgiveness. Some time the hating has to stop.
The Railway Man by Eric Lomax is available now; the film is set for release sometime in 2013.
GD Star Rating