Singapore and the Thailand-Burma Railway

A Royal Coast Review recommended good read

This book presents one of the most vivid descriptions of day-to-day life in a Japanese POW labour camp to have appeared so far. The story follows the experiences of the Norfolk Territorial Regiment from 1942 to 1945, under the command of Lt. Col. Knights, during and after the fall of Singapore. 

Many will recollect having seen the film, The Bridge on The River Kwai. It tended to fictionalise certain matters of fact. This book, drawn directly from a memoir only recently uncovered, reveals that the Japanese designed railway was successfully completed with the forced labour of Allied troops in conjunction with Chinese and Malay captives. 

The Royal Norfolks were allocated a section of the line which required excavating deep cuttings in the rock hills parallel with the river. They had their ‘own’ camp with a Japanese officer in charge. He constantly pressed for quicker progress, and for work to be done by all the prisoners, including those in the camp hospital and their officers, contrary to international law.

The Regiment’s experiences are reported by Lt. Col. Knights in his book. He gives details of his own and others’ sufferings, both those inflicted by their captors and those occurring from tropical diseases and insects, all being worsened by a lack of medicines and food. Some of the local Thais, at great risk to themselves, provided a little of both of those commodities. 

After the railway was completed, the survivors were marched back into Thailand. There they were required to dig a deep ditch round their camp. It was suspected that this would be their grave when they were shot, if the Japanese decided that they had lost the war. Fortunately the two atomic bombs resulted in the Japanese Emperor himself announcing their surrender, forestalling that action. 
The final chapters of the book are filled with excitement and tension in the efforts of the British officers to hoodwink their captors.