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The Colonel of Tamarkan: Philip Toosey and the Bridge on the River Kwai Paperback – 2 May 2006
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From the Inside Flap
I have never ceased to object to the way in which the cinematic legend has overtaken and obscured the facts of what really happened on the BurmaSiam railway . . . thus wrote former prisoner of war John Sharp about the David Lean epic Bridge on the River Kwai. Sharp and many of his former comrades particularly objected to the character of Colonel Nicholson, as played by Alec Guinness, seeing it as a slur on the integrity of the real colonel behind the bridge, Philip Toosey the subject of this outstanding biography.
At the outbreak of the Second World War Toosey had a career with Barings Bank, a young family and a commission with the Territorial Army. It was at Dunkirk that his charisma and fortitude were first noted, and in 1941 he was given command of an artillery regiment. Sent to fight in the Far East he and his men soon found themselves embroiled in the battle for Singapore, and were taken prisoner after the islands fall in February 1942.
The Japanese, scornful of the Allied forces for surrendering, determined to make full use of the new workforce at their disposal. Toosey was sent to Thailand to command the bridge camp at Tamarkan, where he was ordered to supervise the construction of two railway bridges over the river Khwae Mae Khlong. Starvation rations and harsh working conditions up-jungle meant that dysentery and cholera struck, and Tamarkan became a hospital camp. A quarter of the 60,000 prisoners working on the ThailandBurma railway would perish, and it gained the nickname Death Railway. Toosey, as camp commander, was determined to instil hygiene and discipline, giving his men back their self-respect and making himself a buffer for the cruel excesses of the guards.
It would be another three and a half years before he returned home. Even after the war he found he was unable to stop looking after the men to whom he had become an inspiration, and his services to the Far Eastern POWs continued until his death in 1975.
Written by Tooseys granddaughter, The Colonel of Tamarkan draws on both private archives and many original interviews with Second World War POWs from the Asian theatre to create a riveting blend of biography and history. It is a remarkable portrait of a forgotten British hero. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Back Cover
Praise for The Colonel of Tamarkan:
This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of the Second World War. It is an important work about a truly great and noble man. The author Julie Summers is to be commended for her in-depth research and detailed narrative.
Robert von Maier, Pacific War Study Group --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
Though spanning her grandfather's whole life, it is his experiences as a PoW that make it so compelling. We see how he treated his men and tried to protect them, how he was able to command them so well because he was not a career soldier and therefore could think outside the box. He had a great sense of humour, but was firmly based in reality, understanding the needs of his men after the war, for example, when he asked for a load of condoms to be delivered.
What I particularly like about the biography is that Ms Summers uses her privileged position as his grand-daughter to show, rather than hide, the family side of Colonel Toosey - warts and all. We see, for example, the marital difficulties he had with his wife post-war. Summers found when researching that theirs was not an isolated incident. How refreshing to highlight such points when the social cost is often hidden under a stiff upper lip.
As the World War II slips further into the past, I hope that this book gets a wide readership. Ms Summers' fresh, simple style makes real a world that today, sadly, seems almost fictional. It also rescues her grandfather from the perception that he was somehow like Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai. He was a much bigger hero than that.
For those people whose only knowledge of Japanese held POW's and the Thai - Burma railway comes from David Lean's "Bridge over the river Kwai" this book should be added to your bookshelf - after being read of course!
It not only gives the reader an insight into a true, and remarkable, British Officer it also documents the conditions under which the Japanese forced the POWs to work, live and attempt to survive (sometimes not for the faint hearted).
Perhaps its not that well written as mentioned in other reviews but I did not notice. Toosey's story, and that of the men who laboured with him in the camps and on the line, is both gripping and compelling in equal measures. It is one of the few books that I can honestly say I could not put down from start to end.
I can just remember a bit about the War at first hand so that all the way through the book I found myself asking the question, "How would I have conducted myself in the same circumstances?" I am just so full of admiration for the outstanding qualities of the man, that I know that I would have fallen so far short as effectively not to be on the same planet. So I hope it goes without saying that this is the most absorbing story of a man who gradually unfolded the most amazing strength of character. I freely admit that my critical faculties were not engaged with the literary standard of the writing but if the writing is to be judged by the ability of the author to make the reader turn the page over and read to the end and then to wish he or she had not finished the book, then this biography takes its place at the top table.
If one is interested in what makes a leader, what makes men look for guidance to someone, and,yes, what makes one human being love another human being, then read the book. It is perhaps a masculine book, political correctness is not within its cognisance, but when the chips are down - and they were indeed as low as it gets - the story told of the indomitable nature of the human spirit is quite simply inspiring - and very humbling. That Phillip Toosey's Japanese opponents recognised this fundamental truth as well tells us much about the elemental human condition.
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