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Survivor on the River Kwai: The Incredible Story of Life on the Burma Railway Paperback – 6 Mar 2014
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One of the finest accounts yet of life in the jungle PoW camps, at once humbling, heartwarming and enraging (Allan Mallinson The Times)
About the Author
Reg Twigg was born at Wigston (Leicester) barracks on 16 December 1913. He was called up to the Leicestershire Regiment in 1940 but instead of fighting Hitler he was sent to the Far East, stationed at Singapore. When captured by the Japanese, he decided he would do everything to survive.
After his repatriation from the Far East, Reg returned to Leicester. With his family he returned to Thailand in 2006, and revisited the sites of the POW camps. Reg died in 2013, at the age of ninety-nine, two weeks before the publication of this book.
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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.
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.
He tells the story of the brutal treatment by the Japanese, the painful lose of many of his friends and comrades that never made it back, having been starved and worked to death by the Japanese or killed by disease in the jungle camps.
I enjoyed reading how Reg managed to survive in such a hostile and brutal environment, this book serves as a reminder to those that have forgotten or choose to forget how brutal the Japanese nation was during the Second world war.
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