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And the Dawn Came Up Like Thunder: Leo Rawlings: Prisoner of Japan and War Artist 1941-1945 Hardcover – Illustrated, 3 Sep 2015
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About the Author
Leo Rawlings (1918-1990) was a private in the 137th Field Regiment Royal Artillery. A budding artist living in Blackpool, his life was changed forever by the war. Fighting from December 1941 to February 1942 as part of the headlong British retreat eventually leading to defeat in Singapore, he chronicled in pictures and words the campaign and the events that followed from 1941-1945. He drew what he witnessed around him, leading him to be unofficially commissioned to keep a visual record of the prisoners of war s lives.
Top customer reviews
While this book could have been easily edited to read more easily, the reader would have lost the feel of truth that the book exudes. And that feel of truth has kept me gripped to reading 'just one more chapter' or to finish the next chapter before bed and the end result is that the reader should feel as if they have been taken back almost 70 years and be surprised that they have finished the book and it is now way past their bed-time!
To address some of the comments of the original review, Rawlings states when his art is based on eye-witness accounts and not his amazing ability to be everywhere (as evidenced by his account of why he drew HMS Prince Of Wales sinking) at once. As to his 'skewed' depiction of aircraft bombing, I ask the original reviewer to advise us all of their observational skills when 500 lbs of high explosive is landing near him every second!
As most can tell, the original review has annoyed me. And annoyed me to such an extent, I bought the book to denigrate that review. And, for once, I have been vindicated. This is not a definitive view of the Eastern campaign and does not attempt to be historically verifiable, but does set out Leo Rawlings thoughts and emotions about being a POW in Japanese camps from 1942 to 1945.
His views on 'officers' or if you prefer Leo's version 'Officers' would not be amiss in todays military as in all walks of life, you find the good, the bad and the indifferent. And to not complain about those higher up than you would be a forbearance that I would be surprised to find outside of the General Synod/Vatican Council.
In short, this is not the easiest book in the world to read, but if you are interested in either British comic artists, World War Two or autobiographical accounts, then this is a book worth adding to your libray.
His account is thus an uncommon insight into the attitudes of the British common soldier of WW2, a perspective you don't usually get. Aside from Spike Milligan, whose work was a performance rather than an honest autobiography, and Sven Hassel, whose work was essentially fiction, very few other ranks write down their accounts.
The structure is very odd indeed, and one has the impression that Rawlings had an idea of what should be in a book like his but did not himself often read any. He starts with an epigram, from which the book's title is derived, which is a fragment of poetry. Presumably he had noticed that all the best books start in this way, but did not know any poetry, so he came up with a piece of his own, based perhaps on a half-remembered bit of Kipling. Then there is a photo plate of Lord Mountbatten, oddly, whom Rawlings appears to have admired on the basis that his wife visited the prison camp. This is followed by five separate testimonials from various worthies as to how valuable his book is, just in case the reader is in any doubt. Next comes a plate of one of the few officers he seems to have liked, although one has no idea who this man is at this stage of the book. All this preamble is followed by an account of the author's early life written in the third person. No editor or other author is credited, so it is clear that Rawlings wrote this himself. Apparently, he had noticed that serious books featured an editor's introduction to the writer, so he duly wrote one himself in what he took to be the appropriate idiom. Finally, there is an introduction, also written by himself, which recapitulates much of what has been said so far.
After about 30 pages of this padding he then launches into his account, which is littered with random capitalisation ("Infantry Units", "Regiments", and so on), spelling mistakes ("valliantly", "gangerine"), punctuation and other errors, but pauses halfway through the book when he remembers that there ought to be a portrait of the author in there. So he inserts one, and then returns to his narrative.
The book is illustrated with an odd lot of Rawlings' paintings. These range from "injury porn" pictures of bloated, diseased limbs, through to lurid pictures of air-land combat that wouldn't look out of place in a Battle Picture Weekly A5 comic of the 1970s. As such, they clearly depict things Rawlings did not actually see, so one wonders about the authenticity of some of this stuff. There is, for example, a picture of a Japanese air raid drawn from above, a perspective the author cannot have had, and which depicts supposedly Japanese aircraft so inaccurate that he cannot have seen a real one. They may have been inferred from recognition silhouettes of the day, perhaps. There is a picture - and account - of the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales, both as wildly inaccurate as you might expect from a signaller in the Royal Artillery who was nowhere near the events he describes. She was not, as Rawlings maintains, the sister ship to HMS Repulse; she was not attacked by 200 "mostly carrier-based" aircraft but by about 60, all of them land-based. It would be interesting to hear what effect this naval defeat had on the men around him, but nothing is said of this, and indeed the other men of his units and his captivity are rarely mentioned.
A number of pictures and anecdotes are clearly thus hearsay, although he solemnly assures us in the text that these paintings are very reliable and highly accurate. There is a bizarre story about a Japanese fighter starting to write "Surrender" in the sky over Singapore until supposedly shot down by a silver flash of an aircraft with red, white and blue markings. The author clearly finds this a satisfying example of hubris punished, but there is no mention of this incident in any history of the Malayan campaign that I have ever read, and as a painter, he would surely have known the impossibility of seeing the colours of aircraft thousands of feet overhead.
It is thus hard to maintain that the paintings have any particular value, especially as Ronald Searle, a fellow captive of Rawlings', did the same thing rather better (see his To the Kwai and Back: War Drawings 1939 - 1945, for example).
Despite all these problems, there is an interesting account in here somewhere, from an interesting voice. We are accustomed to thinking of WW2 squaddies as selfless, phlegmatic heroes, so to hear from an authentic other rank who does little but carp is an uncomfortable reminder of what the mentality of the day was really like. Ultimately, his main beef seems to be that nobody was much interested in the ordeal he had undergone.
It comes as no surprise to learn that this was a self-published effort. Apparently he wrote the book quickly, and took it to a few publishers, who all told him it needed editing. He refused to have the story told in any way other than the words of his own first draft. Writing the book was clearly intended to be a cathartic experience, and one cannot help thinking that it would have been even more so had he accepted advice on how to structure it so that it would appeal to a wider audience. Rawlings comes over as thoroughly anti-officer and anti-"them" - "them" being anyone higher up in the chain of command than himself, which essentially means everyone. Although we hear a fair bit about the miseries of camp life, we don't hear too much about exactly what went on generally, although there is plenty of carping about officers - exactly as though the officers weren't themselves in the same pickle.
What the book really badly needed was to be properly edited, so that the spelling mistakes and grammar could be corrected, and some actual themes and obvious questions could come out and be properly developed. There is little chronological structure to speak of, nor much sense of what day-to-day life was like. I wondered, as I read, why he did not turn his skills to painting portraits of specific brutal Japanese guards, or to documenting who did what to whom at the time. Any of this would have been of far more practical use, in visiting post-war justice on those men, that what he actually did record.
Above all, it would have been helpful if the book had articulated why, exactly, he seemed to focus his resentment less on the Japanese responsible for the brutality and ill-treatment, but rather towards British officers who shared his captivity and with whom his issue seems to be one of his social class versus theirs. In despising them for their values and what he saw as their weaknesses, Leo Rawlings gives the impression of having rather more in common with the his Japanese captors than he might like.
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