'I have never ceased to object to the way in which the cinematic legend has overtaken and obscured the facts of what really happened on the Burma—Siam railway. ...' — thus wrote former prisoner of war John Sharp about the David Lean epic The Bridge on the River Kwai. Sharp and many of his former comrades particularly objected to the character of Colonel Nicholson, as played by Alec Guinness, seeing it as a slur on the integrity of the real colonel behind the bridge, Philip Toosey — the subject of this outstanding biography.
It was at Dunkirk that Toosey's charisma and fortitude were first noted, and in 1941 he was given command of an artillery regiment. Sent to fight in the Far East he and his men soon found themselves embroiled in the battle for Singapore, and were taken prisoner after the island's fall in 1942.
The Japanese, scornful of the Allied forces for surrendering, determined to make full use of the new workforce at their disposal. Toosey was sent to Thailand to command the 'bridge camp' at Tamarkan, where he was ordered to supervise the construction of two railway bridges over the river Khwae Mae Khlong.
Starvation rations and harsh working conditions up-jungle meant that dysentery and cholera struck, and Tamarkan became a hospital camp. A quarter of the 60,000 prisoners working on the Thailand—Burma railway would perish, and it gained the nickname 'Death Railway'. Toosey, as camp commander, insisted on high standards of hygiene and discipline, giving his men back their self-respect and making himself a buffer for the cruel excesses of the guards.
Written by Toosey's granddaughter, The Colonel of Tamarkan draws on both private archives and many original interviews with Second World War POWs from the Asian theatre to create a riveting blend of biography and history.
It is a remarkable portrait of a forgotten hero.
Actual cover shown.
THE COLONEL OF TAMARKAN by Julie Summers
Simon & Schuster - 2005