The Railway Man by Eric Lomax
Genre: Historical Non-Fiction, Memoir, War
Author: Eric Lomax
Published: January 2014
**To see any spoilers click on the provided link to be redirected to my review on Goodreads where the spoiler will be ‘hidden’ at the same point in the review.**
The Railway Man
“It is strange, looking back now, to think of those boys at school to whom I was never really close. Men born ten years after me could speculate idly about their schoolmates, but that option was closed to me by events in China and Central Europe while I was growing up. I know exactly what happened to each of my contemporaries.
Of the twenty-five of us in our final year at school, only four survived the war.”
The Railway Man is an incredibly touching memoir about a man who’s role in the Second World War was short-lived on the field and long-lived in prisoner of war (POW) camps. Eric Lomax’s story is, for me, one that has touched me – irrevocably so – and will be stuck fast in my mind for years to come. Lomax introduces us to an old world of horrors and amazes us time and time again with his courage and comradeship in overcoming some of the most horrific war-time experiences you could imagine. His story has little to do with the front-line of war and everything to do with what happened out of sight in the inhumane POW camps; there is no doubt that this will alter your perspective on not just history, but your present outlook on life.
I am writing this review on the 14th November 2015 – the day following the tragedy of the Paris Attacks that resulted in the unjust death of over 130 people. It astounds me that mere days after the remembrance of the end of WWI such crimes against humanity continue to occur today. Lomax’s book is one that assures you that no-one in their right mind would re-introduce the world to the horrors of war, yet it seems mankind is forever destined to do so. I would like to take this opportunity to spare a prayer and a thought to those suffering in Paris right now, and hope that such an event does not happen again.
1. This is an historical memoir: it is not overly heavy reading as the events that unfold are so unique and horrific that it’ll have you turning the pages right up until the last one. This also means that Lomax was a real person, he passed away during the final phases of the film adaptation of his memoir, but nonetheless is someone you’ll find yourself dearly wishing to meet.
2. This is the story of a POW: a man who was captured by the enemies during WWII and taken to several different prisoner camps. Those familiar with such a history will know what to expect, those not, should understand that these men have gone through the closest experience to hell on earth. There are many broken bones and spirits throughout this story. Lomax was taken to a Japanese prisoner of war camp, working on the Thai-Burma railway line: it resulted in huge losses of life and terrible conditions for all involved.
3. An Even Quicker History: The Thai-Burma railway line was designed with hopes to enable Japanese forces to enter India and attack the British there. Progress was hurried in hopes to finish it as soon as possible. 60,000 allied prisoners were used for the construction (along with 200,000 Asian labourers, or, romusha) and between 11,000 to 12,000 allied prisoners died during its construction. It did, for a period of time, run as a fully functioning railway connection. It is now closed.
The people in this book mostly consist of just Eric, however, there are others who crop up repeatedly – but this is essentially Eric’s story, and is less about the group of men than the film portrays. Eric is a valiant soldier and his writing was highly captivating. He does his best to avoid ‘tainting’ the story with hindsight – but the tragedy of his story is inescapable when you realise that his love of trains and his situation during the war was such a cruel combination. Eric is definitely someone I would have loved to have met.
Eric is excited to join the war – he’s been cooped up in his town in Scotland with his parents and is eager to strike out and do something different. He is passionate about trains and, as I mentioned above, this leads to a tragic weaving of this love together with the worst thing to happen in his life. He trains and goes to India, and then on to Singapore. For a short while his naivety of the true nature of war make death and cruelty seem distant, and then Singapore falls and he is captured. From there we follow Eric as he endures ordeal after ordeal, which I will briefly discuss in the following spoiler for those interested:
This book is a whirlwind of emotions that will have you thinking about it for a long time after finishing it. The ordeals of Eric and his mates are incredible and heart-breaking – it’s a real eye opener to the cruelty of mankind in ugly situations such as this.
If you’re not up to reading this book, I highly recommend watching the film adaptation. It is just as powerful and perfectly portrays the horrors of this story. I feel that this is something everyone should read or watch at least once in their lifetime, if anything just so that they gain a better understand of what hate and violence means for individuals. There are certainly some interesting alterations in regards to marriage and friendship that the film does – but I don’t think it detracts from the story at all.
As I’ve said, this is absolutely a ‘must read’ book. It is a touching story of a young man who goes through the worst experience you could ever think over and manages to survive. This is an inspiring story of perseverance and an individual’s ability to overcome the impossible. It is a confronting book, but something 100% worthwhile your time. I only hope that reading something like this will make people think again about hating others and violence, wars need to stop, death needs to be natural. It is incredible that Lomax has been able to share this story with the world when you realise how far he has come, and I am eternally grateful to be privy to it. For myself, this has certainly re-motivated me to pursue my aspirations of working in a war museum/memorial so that I can teach others about what happened. I cannot express how much I wish everyone would spare it some time. I’m sure there are multitudes of similar heart-wrenching stories out there: but this isn’t fiction, and it’s the one I’m recommending to you. Trust me on this one.
In memory of those who died in Paris on the 13th November, 2015.
Have you read/watched The Railway Man?
What did you think?
Let me know in the comments below!
~~ Kirstie ~~