Hollywood star Colin Firth, who played World War Two prisoner of war Eric Lomax in a blockbuster film, has paid tribute to the Edinburgh-born railwayman in a secret visit to his graveside.
Mr Firth, who won plaudits for his depiction of Mr Lomax’s life in the Railway Man, stayed with Mr Lomax’s widow Patti on a visit to Berwick-upon-Tweed last week, and sprinkled sand from a beach in Shetland on his grave.
Mrs Lomax said: “It is quite lovely that he took the time to visit. He and Eric hit it off right from the beginning and Colin has always said that the film really affected him.”
Mr Lomax was captured by the Japanese in 1942 and was sent on a forced march along with his fellow soldiers before being put to work building the Burma Railway. More than 100,000 people died as a result of the forced labour and barbaric conditions on the railroad, including more than 6000 British personnel.
There was further heartache for Mr Lomax when he emerged from captivity at the end of the war, discovering on his return to Edinburgh that his mother had died and his father had remarried, meaning he couldn’t return to the family home.
Despite suffering from post traumatic stress disorder as well as the physical scars of his imprisonment for the rest of his life, Mr Lomax wrote a book about his experiences that was the basis for the film, and later met and reconciled with one of his captors, interpreter Takashi Nagase.
Mr Lomax died aged 93 in October 2012, before the film was released, but had met Mr Firth during filming.
The Hollywood star had always promised to visit Mr Lomax’s grave, but Mrs Lomax said the message that he was coming up from London still came as a surprise.
She said: “He felt quite strongly about it but I didn’t really expect him to come. But I got an e-mail on Tuesday to say he would like to come and visit the following day.”
Mr Firth travelled by train without being noticed, and toured the medieval walled city before joining Mrs Lomax by her husband’s grave to sprinkle sand from a beach that the couple had visited together.
She said: “I just came across the sand a little while ago and it seemed appropriate to ask Colin to scatter it on Eric’s grave.
“He really seems to love Berwick and likes the special light here. He seemed very happy to be back again and was saying how lucky the people in Berwick are to be living here.
“He developed a soft spot for the town when he was filming here and he says he will come back again – so I fully expect to get another surprise e-mail saying he is coming at short notice.”