Obituary: Eric Lomax, former prisoner of war, author, 93

Eric Lomax

Eric Lomax

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PRISONER of war Eric Lomax, whose moving memoir about working on the “death railway” in Thailand and its aftermath has been turned into a film starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, has died at the age of 93 in his adopted home of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Edinburgh-born Mr Lomax, who was captured at the fall of Singapore in 1942, was among thousands of servicemen who were used as slave labour by the Japanese on the railway.

Born in Portobello in 1919, Lomax had a sheltered Christian upbringing and developed a passion for railways. He worked in the Post Office and when war broke out joined the Royal Signals at the age of 22.

He ended up in Singapore and was taken to a PoW camp in Siam – as Thailand was formerly known – after the Allied surrender when Singapore fell in 1942. He was rounded up with thousands of others and put in Changi prison before being transported to work on the Death Railway in Kanchanaburi province, where he and several other men secretly built a radio.

“The BBC bulletins gave meaning and normality to our lives,” he recalled. But the radio was discovered by one of the guards. Being the only officer involved in the incident, Mr Lomax was kept a prisoner in a small cage for six weeks, but two of his fellow prisoners who helped construct the device were killed immediately.

After the war, he returned to Edinburgh for several years and went on to become a lecturer at Strathclyde University, but was still haunted by his treatment at the hands of his interrogator during torture sessions in the death camp, Takashi Nagase.

Later he came to terms with his treatment by meeting Mr Nagase and writing about his experiences in his book The Railway Man.

Mr Lomax’s wife, Patti, contacted Mr Nagase and both men met in Kanchanaburi in 1993 and eventually became friends.

Speaking after the highly-charged meeting, he said: “For so long we just didn’t understand and believed that the repair of a bruised body was enough. But it isn’t, I can tell you that. I realised you can hate until you die, but it doesn’t do any good.

“My feelings at the time were just of hate, justified hate. But the nightmare experiences stayed with me, pushed to the back of my mind.

“All I know is that I have confronted the ghost that has haunted me for over 50 years and, if forgiveness is possible – and I hope it is – then I will have faced up to my hate and demolished it.”

Rachel Cugnoni, of his publisher Vintage Books, said: “The Railway Man was one of the landmark books of the 1990s.

“It tells Eric’s incredible and moving story with grace, modesty and exceptional humility. All characteristics Eric had as a man.

“It is a book that stands as a testament to the great capacity of the human spirit for forgiveness and we are honoured to have published it.”

Andy Paterson, the producer of the film of the book, said: “The cast and crew of The Railway Man are deeply saddened to hear of Eric Lomax’s death. All our thoughts today are with his family.

“We remember with great pleasure Eric and Patti’s visit to the set in Berwick-upon-Tweed, just a few months ago. In true Eric style he was intensely interested in the arcane machinery of film-making and keen to know the gauge of the track along which our camera crane ran.

“Eric spoke for thousands of men who felt their service and sacrifice had gone unnoticed.

“Whilst we are heartbroken that he will not be with us at the premiere, he lived long enough to see some early images from the film and to share our hopes that this new version of his story will help ensure that the men who suffered with him – and the families who had to cope with the legacy – would never be forgotten.”

Mr Lomax is survived by Patti, his daughter from his first marriage Charmaine and step-children Graeme, Nicholas, Mark and Jennifer.