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LOST SOULS OF THE RIVER KWAI
Bibliophile price: £6.99
When the British Army in Singapore surrendered to the Japanese in February 1942, Bill Reed was one of the men selected for work on the infamous Burma railway. Transported to Ban Pong on the edge of the Burma jungle, the men found their base camp consisted of makeshift huts on thirty acres of stinking mud. The 250-mile Bangkok-Rangoon railway had been planned by the British in 1929, then rejected as not a viable route through uncharted jungle and rivers liable to flood. Now the Japanese conquerors resurrected the project with slave labour. Initially Bill worked as a surveyor, joining a scheme to sabotage the plans which eventually led to some Japanese overseers being executed. On blasting duty in Hellfire Pass, the POWs supplemented their meagre diet by using stolen explosives to kill fish in the nearby river. Caught returning from one of these expeditions, Bill was ordered to dig his own grave, but was finally spared. Tobacco from a local trader could be made into cigars rolled in the pages of a bible. Constant shouts of "Speedo" accompanied the beatings and torture of the emaciated prisoners, and the most brutal officer, Sugano, was not above tying a prisoner to the buffers of a train, though Bill thought the overseer Tiger Hiramatsu was a man secretly struggling with his conscience. In the monsoon season Bill lost an old and valued friend from cholera. At Tamarkan camp, the POWs were constantly targeted by American bombs, and when the liberation came, following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there was a shocking incident when the brutalised prisoners murdered half a dozen guards. 139pp, bibliography, black and white photos.

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