County’s ‘Railway Man’ recalls Kwai

Clowne war veteran Bill Rose
Clowne war veteran Bill Rose

A former Japanese prisoner of war has spoken of his part in the building of the Thai-Burma railway line – as Hollywood’s take on the tale hits the big screen.

Starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, ‘The Railway Man’ tells the story of the late Scotsman Eric Lowe and his experience during the Second World War.

Like Eric, Clowne-based Bill Rose was captured and taken prisoner by the Japanese and forced to work building railway links between Thailand and Burma.

“I haven’t heard of that film,” said the 95-year-old. “But I saw the Bridge Over the River Kwai and it was nothing like the reality.”

Bill was just 24 in 1940 when, along with hundreds of others from the 1/5th Battalion Sherwood Foresters, he was captured in Singapore by the Japanese and sent to a labour camp.

He said: “Those first days were the hardest. The Japanese guards would beat us with sticks. We wanted to fight back but we knew better.

“But in my experience, we were often treated better than the Japanese soldiers. They would slap them in the face if they did something wrong. Now that is a real insult.”

Bill – named prisoner 299 – recalls losing several friends while building the line, dubbed the Death Railway, with heat, exhaustion and hunger rife.

He was moved to a zinc mine in Honshu, Japan when his past as a miner at Whitwell colliery was discovered, and there he remembers seeing the first atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki.

“There was a great mushroom cloud in the sky. We didn’t know what it was. But we noticed the Japanese were starting to be scared.

“Then we bombed Hiroshima and it was all over.”

Bill returned to Clowne following the war where he married his late wife Rita and returned to work as a miner at Oxcroft colliery.