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Remarkable Story Of A Fight For Life
on 27 May 2013
Reg Twigg's life story is indeed incredible. His father, Sid, was in the Leicester Regiment returning from the Great War in 1919, 'the hell where youth and laughter go'. Reg had never seen him. He had noticed that few children had dads in those early years. He had become hardened and streetwise, excelling as a footballer, cyclist and distance runner. He describes his childhood in a single word - hunger. He learned that 'if you're faced with an ongoing problem, find a way round it'. Aged 26, 5'4" tall, wiry, strong and fit, Reg was conscripted in 1940 to the Leicesters and out of Britain for the first time.
A stormy and colourful journey on a trooper ship ended in Penang and then on to Singapore. Unbeknown to the regiment, Japan had attacked Pearl Harbour, taken Hong Kong and Siam (Thailand) and the Leicesters were totally unprepared for the assault on Singapore. Twigg's comments on the officers and circumstances surrounding this make fascinating reading with incompetence bordering on the farcical. From January,1942 until August,1945, Twigg was a prisoner of the Japanese. He had made his mind up he was 'going to survive; if needs be on his own'.
Transported from one prison camp to another, Twigg and fellow captives were forced to build a railway (Thailand-Burma) through thick and hazardous jungle, hacking bamboo as hard as iron and digging unyielding clay soil, barefooted and wearing little more than a loin cloth. The atrocities and the systematic brutality of the guards, both Japanese and Korean, were barbaric and are vividly described. Deprivation of possessions came with malnutrition (walking skeletons on a diet of pap rice; 'The Nippon Slimming Club'), dysentery, cholera, malaria, beriberi, pus-filled sores and mental illness (madness). Rats, snakes, spiders and scorpions were added hazards. Reg Twigg had an unshakable self-belief that he would survive and that the japs would be beaten. Eating lizards, snakes, the odd fish, stealing from the camp cookhouse (a death sentence if caught), and even a cow's bladder supplemented his rice. The Geneva convention was a joke, replaced by bushido, the way of the warrior, the cult of the Samurai. British officers were rarely seen on the track work (irksome for Reg) but he respected the medical officers who had saved his life. There was little they could do, generally, in 'God's Waiting Room'.
Twigg's determination and survival instinct made him look at the jungle as a friend; the River Kwai he 'lived alongside it, built bridges across it, bathed in it, peed in it, relaxed in it, cooked our pap rice with it and buried the dead alongside it'. In the Malaysian campaign the Japanese lost less than 10,000 men, 'we' lost 138,000. Some 13,000 British, Australian and Dutch soldiers and as many as 80,000 Malay, Tamil and Chinese coolies died. The railway killed them all. Twigg's resilience, sheer guts and guile saw him through. His discharge papers stated he 'Ceased to fulfil army physical requirements'. He returned to Leicester after liberation. He died just before his 100th birthday. A remarkable man's account of Japanese prisoner of war life. Heartfelt and engaging. Illustrated and with an epilogue of Twigg's later life and reflections of POW experiences, this is an enlightening and absorbing read of war atrocities, hardship, death and extraordinary survival.