It's extraordinary how much damage to historical truth can be done by misleading films and fact-based fictional publications, (let alone inaccurate so called academic historical accounts) however strong they appear to be in their own right as creative works.
Such is the case with the film 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' (1957), which was based on Pierre Boulle's fictional work 'Le Pont de la Riviere Kwai' (1952). Met with great international critical acclaim, Sam Spiegel's film came to be seen by many who viewed it as an accurate account of the events that took place at Tamarkan PoW Camp, near Kanchanaburi, Thailand, 1942-1943. The lead character and Prisoner of War camp commander Colonel Nicholson, portrayed in the film by Alec Guinness, bears scant resemblance to the real-life camp commander Colonel Philip Toosey, whilst the film itself is misleading in many other respects. It is commonly understood that myth, subject to repetition and the passage of time, becomes accepted as fact and hence a realistic interpretation of actual events. The director's refusal, on the request of the National Federation of Far Eastern Prisoners of War (FEPOW)- of which Colonel Toosey was a founding member, to clearly acknowledge on the screen the film that the account was indeed fictional, was an act of disrespect to Colonel Toosey and the numerous men who suffered and died during the construction of the bridges over the Khwae Mae Khlong.
Julie Summer's book puts to rights these misleading impressions by elaborating upon the pre-war, wartime and post-war activities of Philip Toosey and his colleagues from the time of the fall of Singapore, until his repatriation to England in November 1945, whilst making repeated reference to Spiegel's film. Her lengthy thesis is hugely rich in detail, both insightful and fair in interpretation of Col. Toosey's character in its strengths and shortcomings. In contrast to the fictional Nicholson, Colonel Toosey was by all accounts (well documented in innumerable letters and other first hand evidence) a great Britain of heroic stature whose key intention was, as a leader and by example, the survival - both physical and mental well-being - of his men by retaining discipline, upholding morale and retaining self-respect among those being forced to work, under threat of brutality, in horrific conditions, by their Japanese captors.
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