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4.8 out of 5 stars88
4.8 out of 5 stars
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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.
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on 17 July 2013
Reg was my wife's uncle and I had the pleasure of knowing him for the past 40 odd years.He was a remarkable man who had no real interest in material possesions and always seemed at ease with himself.He loved the countryside,biking and camping.He was great with children,a sort of pied piper character.I can recall him playing football with my grandkids when he was well into his eighties.
After he retired he used to do gardening jobs,mainly for pensioners, and would often tell us about 'the old dears' that he did work for,most of them were much younger than him but he was still a kid at heart.
He died in May,a couple of weeks before this book was published.At his funeral it was evident how many peoples lives he had touched.This book is a remarkable story of a simple,generous and amazing man.
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on 29 December 2013
How anybody survived the appalling conditions and the barbaric treatment by the Japanese and Korean guards in the labour camps described in this book is almost beyond comprehension. In an ironic kind of way, Reg's difficult childhood (not that untypical of a working class lad in the 1920s and 1930s), summed up by him early in the book with one simple word - "hunger" - prepared him at least in some way for the horrors that followed his capture in the Far East.

Ultimately, along with a huge slice of Lady Luck, it was Reg's indomitable spirit and his ingenuity that earmarked him as a survivor, when so many of his friends and colleagues didn't make it.

This book is not only an excellent historical account of his time in captivity, but it is superbly written to convey all the thoughts, feelings and emotions that a human being experiences when pushed to and beyond the limits of their physical and psychological capacity.

The very best and the very worst of the human condition are on display in this book - and it will move you to tears. Reg Twigg was an amazing man amongst many. Sadly they didn't all come home.
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Just before WW11 the American anthropologist Ruth Benedict wrote a brilliant little book entitled: 'The Chrysanthemum and the Sword'. It is about the many facets of Japanese culture, some of them very disturbing. The latter were displayed in full measure in the atrocities committed against the Chinese and in the many barbarous acts against defenceless soldiers and POW's during the Second World War.

Unlike the atrocities committed by the Nazis, and their many supporters among the German people, those by the Japanese were carried out by soldiers in accordance with policy laid down in Tokyo by their political and military masters.

Many of these atrocities were of almost indescribable bestiality, bayoneting a tied up prisoner was a particular favourite. Attempts to explain, even excuse such sadistic acts have failed miserably. As Benedict and others have shown there is something in Japanese culture that lends itself to acts of utter barbarity.

I very much doubt if Reg Twigg who died this month just short of his 100th birthday,would have any difficulty in describing the brutality of his guards in one of the Kwai camps for POW's. In all he was incarcerated from 1942 until 1945. How he survived-over 13000 Troops from Britain, Holland and Australia didn't, plus around 80000 coolies who also died-malaria, cholera, malnutrition and, in particular, the sadistic violence of his Japanese captors is amazing. That he did was due to an indomitable spirit and sheer courage.

Prior to the war he tells us he was a fanatical cyclist and a very fine athlete.

In 1946 he was discharged from the Leicester Regiment-a very fine regiment-because some desk-bound committee found him 'no longer physically fit for service'! How insensitive can one get!

Do read this heartwarming and uplifting book. It will make you proud to be British. The Japanese however may find it deeply embarrassing.
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on 26 July 2013
Where do I start?! Read this, along with The Forgotten Highlander and then think again before you curse and tut at the old man who is in your way whilst you are in a supermarket etc, he may well be a survivor of this terrible campaign. Reg Twigg died before he saw his book published. He has written a very insightful book, and has every right to be a bitter man, I would like to have met Reg Twigg and had a pint with him, he struck me as an out and out gentleman.

A wonderful page turner of a book and an epic story of survival.
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on 15 June 2013
Reg takes us on a journey of botched British military strategy that was born of supreme arrogance and resulted in the common soldier such as himself being plunged into a living hell for many years, of which many didn't survive. At the end of it all those that made it back were barely even recognised for their resilience and sacrifice.
The story is relayed to us with a sense of compassion and humility befitting the hero that lived through it, and the reader is continually moved by such sentiments as he is faced with the cruel realities of life as a Japanese POW.
I am originally from Leicester and as a child spent much of my time in the places Reg mentions he grew up in and visited as a young man. I shall look on such places with a renewed sense of awe and appreciation the next time I am back.
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on 7 July 2013
Very prompt delivery and well packaged,a good quality well bound book.
I lost my father in 1943 as a serving soldier in the Royal Norfolk Regiment He died as many others did on the railway from beri-beri and left a pregnant wife and one daughter. Sadly I never had the opportunity met him as he left before I was born. I have however been fortunate enough to visit Thailand and stand by his grave at Kanchanaburi.
Reg Twigg's account of his experiences makes fascinating reading and creates a real feeling of admiration for the courage of all those who were held as prisoners. It also serves as a stark reminder of just how cruel and inhuman men can be towards other men. This book is well worth reading, providing a blow by blow account of the time and circumstances involved reflecting this terrible period in our history.
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on 8 June 2013
Nicely written, direct simple style which lets the events and story do the work. It does not sensationalise or overly dramatise but still takes you on one man's journey through the worst experiences imaginable. The character is convincing and compelling and you are drawn into his life and then taken through his incredible story in a way which makes you want to keep reading. Vivid, clear and engaging.
Well worth a read
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on 9 September 2013
In 1941 I was born. In the 1950s-60s I read all the available PoW paperbacks. In September 2013 I headed for the River Kwai, not to follow up an earlier visit to “the bridge”, nor to spend time in Kanchanaburi’s well-kept war cemetery contemplating the ‘then and now’ – but on a personal nature photo safari with my Thai wife and relatives. I also, by chance, took along the hardback edition of the book.

Do not be confused by an author’s name on the cover (Reg Twigg), followed by an Author’s Note (Clive Medway). Clive is Reg’s father and Clive is a gifted raconteur. Numerous monochrome plates supplement the book, featuring both photos of life (to use a euphemism) on the 1940s “Railway of Death” as the camera saw it, and artistic impressions as others remembered it. The caption to the portrait of Nipon’s ultra-violent Lieutenant Usuki by page 83 helps relieve the reader’s pent-up feelings by adding “he was executed after the war”. A sadistic guard nicknamed “The Silver Bullet”, who killed Reg’s close mate Harry, also earns a place of honour in the rogues’ gallery, albeit flanked by comrades.

Medway’s excellent prose alternates with sheer British army profanity, the content of which is better imagined than quoted! At the outset, the reader might be forgiven for feeling this book is more of a biography than a story confined to the Japanese Burma railway atrocities – but if you want a clear picture of Twigg’s WW2 Britishness, stick with it, for Medway will get you by troop vessel to Singapore (“Twigg! … It was Major Bowley. “I’ve left my tommy gun in the golf course clubhouse. Go and get it.”- in the midst of a battle!). The narrative excellently reflects the chaos that led to Reg Twigg unwillingly helping the Japs construct an essential supply route from Thailand to Burma. Rather unsportingly, the Allies felt obliged to obliterate the railway in their own interests, so that Twigg’s ”first mosquito” chapter is more than just a passing reference to an insect vector of malaria! As a salute to those Europeans, Australians – and especially Asians – forced to slave to the benefit of a nation that eventually felt the might of humankind’s first atomic bomb, it will be difficult to better this book. Down on the Kwai, looking for wildlife, I now pack my HD edition of Reg Twigg’s “adventures” safely down inside my rucksack - among my cameras and lenses of Japanese manufacture. Do buy the book for reading during your ‘yasume’. It’s the best of its kind.
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on 11 June 2013
"I love it" is hardly appropriate for this horrifying account of death and life under the Japanese. It is a most remarkable achievement by Reg for surviving and his family.for putting the story together
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