Why It's Worth Doing Everything Possible
To Avoid It
By Fred Seiker
When soldiers face no risk from their prisoners, those prisoners are stripped of every power to control their own lives thereafter. Soldiers (or guards) can take out their personal frustrations by working prisoners around the clock, deny them food & water, then torture them & finally kill them - and laugh about it all the while. |
It's a simple fact of man's psychology that people in a position of power DESPISE people with no power. And when these powerless people are "foreigners" (in the eyes of their "keepers") - forget it! There's nothing holding them back.
Though this account is about prisoners of the Japanese, keep in mind the millions of foreign troops under the U.N. flag ready to "police" America during martial law, while our own troops are tied-up in Iraq.
People forget just how bad things can get. Sometimes a reminder can be a good motivator... and a reminder that it's worth doing everything possible to fight it before it can trap us.
(Originally from: www.bmw.ukf.net/3pagodas/TBRandON.htm, which appears to be inactive.
I've recently [7-2014] found it on:
The Thai-Burma Railway and Beyond
(Text of a talk by Fred Seiker to the Kwai Railway Memorial (Three Pagodas Group) at their October 1997 Annual General Meeting)
When asked a while ago to talk about 'Life on the Railway'. I felt somewhat uneasy about this title because it suggests that there was indeed life during the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway. By that I mean life as I had known it prior to becoming an employee of the l.J.A. Also, to describe the Railway to the uninitiated and expect them to even begin to understand, does rank among the 'impossibles' of our time. The mind refuses to accept what it hears. The brain seeks for acceptable content when listening to the many P.O.W. stories about the Railway which abound since the V.J. commemorations in 1995. When it cannot detect any, it closes shop and ceases to process further information. I am not enlightening you with all this to make a particular point, only to emphasise my understanding of the public's reaction to the stories told about the Thai-Burma Railway, built during the Second World War by Allied P.O.W.s.
'Any opinions..are entirely my own and...highly prejudiced'
I have, therefore, decided to base this talk on a few personal experiences and witnessed events, avoiding the horrors of the well-documented tortures carried out by the l.J.A. and their military police, the Kempitai. Those atrocities were executed by the Japanese with relish and often with immense amusement. I would also stress that any opinions about the Japanese that might surface during this talk are entirely my own and, by their nature, highly prejudiced.
'The humiliation was complete. In minutes I ceased to be a person'
I became a P.O.W. in Bandung, Java, soon after the Japs occupied the island. I walked into the P.O.W. camp, complete with two suitcases filled with all manner of food. The cases were immediately ripped from my grasp, my objections to this piracy act were rejected by Japanese fists slamming into my face and a rifle butt sending me crashing to the ground. A Jap officer explained to me in English that I was now a P.O.W. of the l.J.A. and, as such, had no rights whatsoever. They then proceeded to remove my personal belongings: watch photographs, money, etc. The humiliation was complete. In minutes I ceased to be a person. I believe to this day that they considered a worm in the earth of greater value than a P.O.W.
'Their death was designed to be painful and slow'
I was shown my temporary home, which consisted of the veranda of an abandoned bungalow, which I shared with two other P.O.W.s. The front of the veranda was open to the elements and somewhat drafty and wet at times. We soon organized ourselves in some sort of routine and waited for things to develop. Which they did. One late afternoon, the entire camp was ordered on parade. We were confronted with the spectacle of three sailors, each tied to a wooden pole. A Jap officer explained that these three chaps had escaped from the camp, but were soon caught and were now waiting to be executed. A rumble rippled through the assembled P O.W.s. It was a tense moment, but the cocked machine guns, trained on us, soon calmed things down. The sailors were executed by bayonet thrusts in the throat, the stomach and lower abdomen. Their death was designed to be painful and slow. A warning to future escapees! It also became clear to us what kind of animals we were dealing with.
'.. you were confronted with a huge bayonet, and a hasty retreat back into hell followed.'
One evening it was announced that we would be taken to another place, where we would be put to work on building a railroad. Those who followed orders would be well treated, others would receive harsh but just treatment. Convoys of trucks took us to Tandjong Priok, the harbor of what was then Batavia, now Djakarta. We were herded onto a shabby old rust bucket and driven into the holds of the Maru. To describe the scene is one of those occasions when even an imaginative mind fails to grasp the horror of it all. We were stacked - and I mean stacked - onto elevated platforms within the holds of the vessel. The horizontal space per man was just enough to turn over without landing on your neighbor. In some cases bodies had to turn over in unison to avoid landing on your mate next to you. Vertical space was not quite enough to sit up. A dim light at the end of each row of bodies was the only glimmer that could be seen. Each hold had one single opening at the top for ventilation. At each of the openings stood a Jap guard, who was in total command of who was allowed on deck for natural functions. If he decided not to allow you on deck, you were confronted with a huge bayonet, and a hasty retreat back into hell followed. The natural function then took place in the hold. The first dysentery cases began to appear.
The trip to Singapore took several days. Our misery and humiliation at that time was total. On arrival in Singapore we were transported to Changi Jail. Time at Changi was not too bad. The Japs left us alone and we ran our own affairs as best as we could. Food was lousy, of course, but little extras could be obtained through various obscure channels.
We were obviously waiting for further orders from the Japs. Time was on our hands, and tempers often flared.
Time had come when we were transported to Thailand, and we found ourselves packed into steel railway trucks. I shall not describe our journey which took several days. Various books on the subject have been published describing this hell on wheels in some detail. We eventually arrived at a place called Kanchanabury, where we were housed in a long bamboo hut. The floor consisted of wet mud, the sleeping platforms were constructed from bamboo slats, the allocated space per man was about two feet, and the roof in many places open to the sky. This was to be our home for some time to come. It soon became evident that the question of camp and personal hygiene were crucial to one's survival.
'Fist fights were the order of the day, until we realized that the Japs took great delight in our squabbles.'
I wish to mention something here which is usually avoided in the many books written about this episode. The large base camps in the south of Thailand held thousands of men from various countries, each with their own distinctive way of life. The British had their community spirit, the Aussies their egalitarian attitude, the Dutch their individualism - the Americans were not in evidence at that time. It should, therefore, not be too surprising to hear that in the days of early captivity, ugly scenes took place among the P.O.W.s. Fist fights were the order of the day, until we realized that the Japs took great delight in our squabbles. The camp atmosphere changed for the better, which also made us realize that we depended upon each other in times ahead.
Our group was soon put to work on the foundations for the Kwai Bridge at Tamarkan. We were detailed to work on driving wooden piles into the river bed for the foundations of the concrete bridge supports. I would like to explain how this highly complex and technical feat was executed. Several triangular wooden pole structures were erected which carried a pulley at the top end. A stout rope was fed over the pulley. One end of the rope carried a heavy steel ram; the other end was splayed into several leaders, which were held by P.O.W.s standing in the river bed. Straight tree trunks were obtained from the surrounding forest, transported to the bridge site by elephants or floated from up-country downstream, where a Jap decided which ones were to be used for piling. The piles were hauled into position beneath the ram and we began pile driving, on the command of a Jap standing on the riverbank shouting through a megaphone the required rhythm at which he decided that piling should take place.
'Hour after hour after hour. Day in, day out. From dawn to dusk, unrelenting.'
You pulled in unison, you let go in unison. 'Ichi, ni, san, si, ichi, ni, san, si, on and on and on. Hour after hour after hour. Day in, day out. From dawn to dusk, unrelenting. On returning to camp at night it was often difficult to raise the spoon to eat the slop issued to us. Your arms protested in pain, often preventing you from snatching some precious sleep. And yet, come dawn you repeated the misery of the previous day. I often wondered about the miracle of the human body and mind. Believe me, it is quite awesome. I was fortunate in that I was engaged in the piling operation for only a short while, when our group was taken up-country to begin work on the rail embankment. This meant we were to occupy smaller camps, run by Japanese non-commissioned officers. These thugs were usually power-drunk, sadistic, evil individuals.
'Whenever this occurred the Japs were on you with their heavy sticks, and beat the living daylight out of you.'
Building embankments consisted of carrying earth from alongside the track to the top of the ever-growing embankment. You carried a basket from the digging area to the top of the embankment, emptied it and down again to be filled for your next trip up the hill. Or you carried a stretcher - two bamboo poles pushed through an empty rice sack - one chap at each end, and off you went. Simple really. But in reality this job was far from easy. The slopes of the embankments consisted of loose earth, clambering to the top was a case of sliding and slithering with a weight of earth in attendance. This proved to be very tiring on thigh muscles and painful, often resulting in crippling cramp. You just had to stop, you could not move. Whenever this occurred the Japs were on you with their heavy sticks, and beat the living daylight out of you. Somehow you got going again, if only to escape the blows. Also, the soil alongside the track varied considerably, affecting the volume of earth an individual could move during a day. At the start of each day a Jap would decide the total volume of earth to be dug out that day. By the nature of things, some finished earlier than others. The volume the following day was fixed by the fastest time obtained the previous day, thereby increasing the total workload of the entire team. It was a truly 'no win situation'. If a team was running late, everyone worked on until the volume for that day was achieved. That meant that the Japs also had to stay behind. They relieved their anger and frustration by random beatings of P.O.W.s, sometimes resulting in serious injuries.
I have often been asked 'Can you describe a typical day for us?'. A typical day! A typical day would begin the previous evening at the roll call on return from the work~site. The numbers counted were then expected to turn up for work the following morning, ignoring those who had become ill, some badly
'The orderly who presented the Japs with his sick list was always, and I mean always, beaten up in a show of Jap rage'
It was a never changing scenario. The orderly who presented the Japs with his sick list was always, and I mean always, beaten up in a show of Jap rage. The poor, sick individuals were then dragged from the so-called hospital, and forced to turn out for work on the railway. Sometimes they returned to the camp that night, carried on a sack stretcher, dead! These were, by no means, isolated incidents: they occurred on a daily basis all along the railtrack. I want to express an opinion here which is close to my heart. As we know, numerous individuals have been praised and honored for their humanitarian work in the base camps, often enduring horrendous treatment by the Japs for ignoring their stupid orders. These individuals deserve our admiration and deepest respect. The orderly in the jungle camp carried out his work with steadfast dedication. He protected his charges with unstinting valor, day in, day out. Often moving with great pain in his body from the beatings he received. He knew for certain that every time he tried to protect his mates he would receive a merciless beating. He never flinched, although he did not know whether he would be able to walk away from the next beating. That to me is heroism of the highest order. Where are these men now? I do not recall seeing their names in the honors lists.
'This thug is the only one I would love to meet on my own ground, even at the sensible age of 82'
I have been intrigued by ex-P.O.W.s who readily remember the names of Jap guards and the camps they occupied. Perhaps it is because I was never long enough in a particular camp to become familiar with their names. Although I must confess that the names of the guards never did have much significance. I believe that my mind decided for me, to remember only those things worthy of its function. However, there is always the exception and that is 'Horseface'. The reason for this nickname becomes obvious when you look at the sketch of his face depicted in my modest book 'Lest We Forget'. He was a Korean guard of the worst type. Many Koreans were sent to the smaller camps by the Japs in which I so often found myself. This thug is the only one I would love to meet on my own ground, even at the sensible age of 82. He was the original pervert and sadist. His main enjoyment was that of loitering at the tail end of a column of P.O.W.s returning from a day's slavery on the railway and prodding any straggler with his bayonet, the point of which he had honed to a razor sharp edge. It never caused serious damage, but it always drew a trickle of blood. On spotting the blood he would grunt with pleasure, face distorted in ecstasy. He would then select his next victim. Oh yes, I'd love to win him in a raffle.
' I was propped against the tree, my arms pulled back and tied at the wrists behind the tree trunk. My feet were tied together with barbed wire and secured to the tree trunk. After a few more punches in the face, they left me alone.'
I would also like to demonstrate to you the crazy philosophy of these creatures. It refers to what I call the 'kitchen incident'. In one camp in the north of Thailand it occurred that it was my turn to raid the Jap cook house in the hope of finding something to eat. It was known to us that the Japs had confiscated a small consignment of Red Cross parcels, which was their usual procedure. I was able to nick a tin of fruit. On my way back to my eagerly waiting mates, I was suddenly confronted with a glistening bayonet, followed by a kick in the groin. I was terrified. I was marched to the guard house with the bayonet in close attendance. The ritual beating began. Several of them pounced on me all at the same time. When eventually the sergeant in charge of the camp appeared, he ordered them to stop. I could not have been a pretty sight; I certainly did not feel like one. He drew his sword and pointed it at my neck, grinning. He addressed me in broken English, from which I understood that stealing from the l.J.A. was a serious crime, and would be punished by chopping my head off. At some point, I managed to explain to him that I could not possibly be a thief by taking something that was mine in the first place. He did not appreciate the logic of my defence, and he ordered that I be taken to the punishment tree some ten yards in front of the guard house.
I had watched many a comrade undergo the sergeant's favorite punishment and realized that it was now my turn. I was propped against the tree, my arms pulled back and tied at the wrists behind the tree trunk. My feet were tied together with barbed wire and secured to the tree trunk. After a few more punches in the face, they left me alone. The pain that lashes your body after a while, I must leave to your imagination. When morning broke they put a bucket filled to the brim with water in front of me and left me to it. A sophisticated torture if ever there was one. Parade was called, and it was explained that this was the punishment for stealing from the l.J.A., and that I would be executed later on. I do not remember much after that. As you are aware by now, the execution did not take place. The terror of it was that you never knew whether it was an idle threat or an official statement. I came to in the 'hospital', with an orderly trying to pour water into my mouth. I have never found out why I was caught, though there was a suspicion. These things did happen now and then. A short while after that I was back on the railway.
'you do not have to be afraid of ever finding yourself in hell. There would be no purpose - you have been there and worse'
Cholera! Once you have lived through a cholera epidemic in a Japanese P.O.W. camp, you do not have to be afraid of ever finding yourself in hell. There would be no purpose - you have been there and worse. It broke out as suddenly as it vanished.
'We were instructed to incinerate our dead, not to bury them. Cholera strikes swiftly without warning.'
Overnight the huts were filled with the dead and those waiting to die. The Japs were terrified of this disease and hastily vanished to a safe distance up the road after barricading the entrance to the camp with X-shaped barricades and rolls of razor wire. We were instructed to incinerate our dead, not to bury them. Cholera strikes swiftly without warning. It is terminal in the absence of medication. Our medic's kit did not even contain an Aspirin tablet. Combined with the emaciated state most of us were in, the onslaught was terrifying. You could be OK in the morning and dead at 10 o'clock that same evening. Once dehydration set in, your place on the pyre was assured. l was one of a team attending the funeral pyre for a while, and depositing the bodies of my friends into the flames. This was a round-the-clock operation, 24 hours a day. It was particularly macabre and frightening at first during night time. Bodies would suddenly sit up, or an arm or leg extend jerkily. But even this horror soon became a routine job.
The reply was: 'He's had it, packed up last night.' Someone muttered 'Lucky bastard, he's out of it'. On the subject of the acceptance of death, l would like to recall a typical incident Once, after a day's work on the embankment, a mate next to me laid down for the night's rest, when he turned to me and said; 'I feel lousy and very tired.'. The following morning I shook him to make sure that he was awake. He was not, however. He was dead. Died during he night. Quietly. The orderlies came and took him away. Another identity tag into the rusty metal tin! At some time during the day, someone would say: 'Where is old Tony?' The reply was: 'He's had it, packed up last night.' Someone muttered 'Lucky bastard, he's out of it'. There never was intended disrespect. Death had become an accepted part of our existence on the Railway Of Death. The cholera outbreak lasted for several horrendous days. It took away many of my friends. l do not recall the total death toll. I learned after the War that some native labor camps were entirely wiped out, because of cholera.
'Consider for just a moment how these human beings died, where they died and, above all, why they died.'
The railway was completed on the 17th October 1943 at Konkuita in Thailand, not far from the Three Pagodas Pass. l shall not enter into the statistics or technical data or the final death toll of the various countries involved; these have been extensively quoted in numerous publications, only to state that the railway was 415km long and built from scratch in just 16 months. (A previous assessment, carried out by British Engineers was 5 years.). The total labor force consisted of about 68,000 Allied P.O.W.s and 200,000 Asian laborers. The combined death toll was around 96,000, of which 18,000 were Allied P.O.W.s. Consider for just a moment how these human beings died, where they died and, above all, why they died.
'...the Japs' intent to massacre our group in the tank traps, pour kerosene over the bodies, set them alight and finally bulldoze earth over the remains'
When the Railway was completed, teams of maintenance workers were formed by the Japs, moving up and down the track, repairing and maintaining bridges, tracks, embankments, etc. I was one of a group sent to northern Thailand and into Burma, to dig caves into the hillsides. These caves were used by the Japs for ammunition storage. The caves were connected to the railway by heavily camouflaged roads, so they were not visible from the air. We often considered the danger we represented to the Japs because of our knowledge of the whereabouts of these caves. It seemed not to bother them. At some point we were ordered to dig tank traps in close proximity to our camp. Tank traps in the middle of virgin jungle?, we asked ourselves. These tank traps were of considerable length and width. Then someone offered the thought that these tank traps looked remarkably like mass graves. Our suspicions of the Japs' intentions were later justified by the discovery of a hidden fuel depot nearby. I have no personal knowledge of this, but it would appear that later found evidence proved the Japs' intent to massacre our group in the tank traps, pour kerosene over the bodies, set them alight and finally bulldoze earth over the remains. We would have disappeared forever.
'The bastards have gone.'
Then the BOMB happened. On 18th August 1945 at dawn I went on my usual trip to the latrines, expecting the ritual early morning bashing from a guard for either not spotting him in time to bow, or bowing to an empty space, whilst he was hiding a few yards away. But the bashing never came. No shouts of 'kurrah'. Nothing stirred. There was an eerie silence. Others shuffled by as bemused as I was. I collected my mate and, together, we crept to the point where the guard house could be seen. Not a Jap in sight. Could this be a trap? Waiting for something to happen so they had the excuse of firing on us? The hated flag which usually hung draped at the bottom of the flag pole after sun down, had gone. Empty crates and rubbish strewn all over the place. I remember looking at each other in total disbelief. We entered into the open, every sinew in our body tensed, expecting the unexpected. Nothing happened. Still no Japs. Could it be? Then someone shouted 'The bastards have gone.' The words shot through the camp like a lit fuse. Then someone else shouted 'The trucks have gone', and so they had.
'I had become a person again as sudden as it was ripped away from me all those years ago'
After a while a few natives appeared, telling us with gestures and much excitement that the Japs indeed had gone during the night. Later we learned that the War had ended three days earlier on August 15th. We wondered whether the Japs had known. I cannot begin to tell you how this news was received by us. Some sank to their knees and seemed to pray. Others just stood their, tears streaming down their haggard faces. A few were running around, wildly gesticulating and screaming I could not grasp the enormity of what had happened. I had become a person again as sudden as it was ripped away from me all those years ago. I remember the feeling of triumph that swept over me. I had done it! I had outlived all attempts by Hirohito and his murdering freaks to kill me. But, above all else, I could say 'NO' again to anything and anyone. It is called democracy and freedom. Believe me, it's worth fighting for. The present and generations to come around our world must be made aware of this so they can guard their birthrights with all their might.
However, a heavy shadow hung over the camp that day, because on 16th August, a day after the War had officially ended, an Aussie friend was bayonetted to death by the Japs. Perhaps he knew more than we did. He made an escape bid and was promptly returned to the camp by members of a nearby hill tribe. It was believed that the Japs paid handsomely for this kind of enterprise. I only hope that his folk at home never found out.
'I do not recall having been given so many pills and injections in one single day.'
There remains to tell you that we found a serviceable locomotive and some flat-tops on a nearby siding. We began our journey south with great care and little progress. Then, after only a short while, a cry from the leading flat-top pierced the quiet air. OUR ORDEAL WAS OVER. It was a rescue train slowly steaming up the track towards us. Two Red Cross flags flying at either side of the loco. The train had left the base camp a few days earlier, picking up survivors as it rattled up the track. They had been told about us, but didn't know where we were, and had begun to fear the worst. I do not recall having been given so many pills and injections in one single day. But I do recall the warmth coursing through my veins on swapping jokes with the medics, the feeling of belonging, to be among your own. I was eventually taken to the field hospital in Kanchanabury, where were were once again separated into groups of nationalities I did not cherish this at all.
Life became pretty boring after that, whilst waiting to be repatriated. I managed to join the M.P. Corps after a while, which kept me reasonably occupied. I must tell you about an episode in Kanchanabury which has stayed with me ever since. We used to frequent a Thai cafe for drinks, snacks and to exchange news. The owner of the cafe had a little girl who had stolen our hearts and, in particular, mine. This little girl fell seriously ill. The Thai doctor treating her said that he did not have the necessary drugs to treat her and that, without those drugs, she would die. We dragged our own doctor to the cafe to examine this little girl with the Thai doctor in attendance.
'However, we understood the 'wink and nod', and so I became a thief once more.'
He confirmed the Thai doctor's findings, and agreed that without the required drugs she would, indeed, die. But, under the military rules at the time, he could not supply drugs of any kind to the Thai population. However, we understood the 'wink and nod', and so I became a thief once more. There remains for me to say that the drugs were delivered to the Thai doctor within hours. Needless to say, I clung to the Thai doctor like a leech until the drugs were administered. A close record was kept of the use of them until the course was complete. The little girl made a full recovery. I have never had the slightest feeling of guilt about the way those drugs were obtained. I felt it was our 'thank you' to the Thai people who had put their lives on the line in trying to help us whenever they could. Needless to say that once the news got around, the local people were ready to accept us as their ruler, or so it seemed. This was a truly joyous time.
' A few could not handle the return to normal life and committed suicide, the most distressing fatality of all'
The aftermath of the Railway atrocity affected many P.O.W.s in different ways. Some showed minor problems, some were crippled for the rest of their lives. Others spent the rest of their days in hospital. Some suffered mental problems. A few could not handle the return to normal life and committed suicide, the most distressing fatality of all. Still others saw their marriage torn apart, often because of complete character change. I was one of the lucky ones. My problems were manageable, though still with me today. The problems I had to deal with whilst working on the Railway were mainly chronic dysentery, intermittent malaria attacks, of which one was touch-and-go, minor beri-beri and a small tropical ulcer which miraculously disappeared. These ulcers were the most feared of all. They caused horrible limb disfigurements and often required amputation without an anaesthetic! But there was always the malnutrition problem, causing such slaughter among the P.O.W.s. I finished up with an enlarged spleen and liver and a permanent disorder of my digestive system as a result of the years of dysentery. On the whole I have managed very well in contrast with many of my old comrades who have led lives of misery since their release from hell. I had a little difficulty in adjusting to normal living and was treated by a psychiatrist for a while. Within a year of returning to normality I was ready to face the world again, and that is what I did. One incredible point I have in common with other P.O.W.s still alive, we still have nightmares after more than half a century of civilized living. It would seem that the brain does not forget, however hard one tries to wipe out certain events. I can't make up my mind whether this is a good or a bad thing.
In winding up this talk about the Railway, I would like to acquaint you with some related subjects which still cause bitterness:
In October 1946 the then British Government sold the Thai section of the Railway together with most of the rolling stock to the Thai Government for the bargain price of £1,250,000. The bulk of this money was used to recompense the owners of rolling stock, locomotives and rails removed by the Japs from Burma, Malaya and the N.E.I. I leave you to JUDGE the MORALITY of this TRADE DEAL. It means that for every British corpse that lies buried in Thai soil, the then Government was paid about £190. Spread over the total of Allied dead, this came to about £70 per corpse. A comforting thought indeed for the widows, relatives and other loved ones who lost their men folk in the jungles of Thailand and Burma.
The Japanese individual responsible for the infamous biological trials carried out on Allied P.O.W.s and others was initially arrested after the War as a war criminal. He was, soon thereafter, released, following a deal with the Americans. He was moved to the U.S. where, by all accounts, he was given a major job with a leading pharmaceutical organization.
Well documented sources have revealed that the Japanese High Command ordered their forces to kill all Allied P.O.W.s the moment Allied soldiers would set foot on Japanese soil. The Bomb prevented the unthinkable. One should remember that this happened within our lifetime.
And finally, some impressions and emotions I treasure. It is hard to explain, but in some way I feel privileged to have endured and experienced the Railway episode. It is given to few people to observe their fellow beings stripped of the trappings of civilization. The raw nature of man soon emerges once the protective mantle of society is ripped away. I have observed men of immense stature in civilian life crumble like dry earth, when confronted with issues affecting their own life or that of their comrades. A truly pathetic and pitiful sight. On the other hand there was a man, who in civic street was the headmaster of an elementary school. A typical man for this job by appearance, if you like. Bald-headed, with a fringe of hair around the back of his head. Slightly built, of small stature, walking with a slight stoop. Always polite, always civil. The Japs didn't bother him. He used to say: 'It won't last for ever, they cannot possibly win this War. Just hang on, and it will be right in the end'.
'This timid, friendly little man rose to be a giant of mental strength, a beacon for us all to follow'
Then one day on the railroad, I do not recall what happened. He jumped in front of a Jap who was beating a sick friend. He shouted at the thug that if he wanted to beat up someone, he should at least have the courage to pick on a so-called fit person. The Jap proceeded to do just that with great abandon. The schoolmaster received a terrible beating. We had to carry him back to the camp that night. This timid, friendly little man rose to be a giant of mental strength, a beacon for us all to follow. We were separated later on, and I have not heard from this marvelous man ever since. There are many examples like this, exposing human nature at its best and worst.
I firmly believe that nothing that life throws at an ex-P.O.W. who has endured the Thai-Burma Railway, can ever be as bad. It is a useful thought to keep alive.
'There was a huge man, towering above the assembled viewers, standing in the centre of the gallery, his fists clenched and tears streaming unashamedly down his bearded face'
Another episode of recent times will always be with me. Allow me to explain. During the VJ commemorations in 1995, I held an exhibition of paintings at the Bevere Vivis Gallery in Worcester, depicting Japanese atrocities carried out on the Thai-Burma Railway. It soon got around and the media turned up in force. As a result, people came to the Gallery from all over the place and from all walks of life. The emotions released on looking at my pictures and, for the first time, understanding a little of what happened to their loved ones, was an experience almost beyond description. It was just overwhelming. There was a huge man, towering above the assembled viewers, standing in the centre of the gallery, his fists clenched and tears streaming unashamedly down his bearded face His father had died on the Railway. His grave was never found. All there remained was his father's name on a plaque. How can one ever forget such pain and emotion?
With this in mind, I shall now finish this talk with a few words based on the theme of the now famous words: 'When you go home, tell them of us and say we gave our tomorrow for your today.' My words are these:
'….and, when I came home, I told them about us, the dead and the surviving.
They listened, they nodded, smiling, forgetting.
Thank you for listening.
The widow held my hand, kissing me on the cheek, lightly,
Not to rouse the pain within and walked away, sadly, proudly.
Yes…., I told them about us when I came home.
Copyright © Fred Seiker,
22 Raven Drive, Worcester WR5 3LR
Tel: 01905 354510
(Originally from: • www.bmw.ukf.net/3pagodas/TBRandON.htm, which appears to be inactive.
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