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Phuket News: Last 'Death Railway' Brit dies

The last British prisoner of war to work on the construction of the World War II 'Death Railway' between Thailand and Myanmar has died, aged 99.

By Bangkok Post

Monday 13 May 2013, 03:46PM

Reg Twigg, the last British survivor to have worked on the Death Railway, is pictured returning to the Bridge on the River Kwai. Photo: Andrew Lownie Literary Agency

Reg Twigg, the last British survivor to have worked on the Death Railway, is pictured returning to the Bridge on the River Kwai. Photo: Andrew Lownie Literary Agency

Reg Twigg, a former private in the Leicestershire Regiment of the British Army was one of 60,000 Allied POWs and 250,000 Asian labourers forced by the Japanese army to endure horrific living and working conditions during the construction of the railway track between Thailand and Myanmar, then known as Burma.

Twigg, who spent three years constructing the jungle railroad, was waiting for his book Survivor On The River Kwai to be published when he died last week.

The Daily Mail has published extracts from the memoir, which will be published posthumously.

The book details Twigg’s journey from the fall of Singapore in 1942, to “three years of hell” in camps along the River Kwai, building the notorious railway that claimed the lives of 16,000 allied POWs and at least 90,000 Asian civilians. 

Twigg explains how he learned to use the jungle to survive – trapping and eating lizards and making snake soup – and documents the brutality of Japanese soldiers. 

Twigg was taken prisoner on the morning of Feb 15, 1942 and spent seven months in Changi Prison, Singapore, before being “packed, standing room only, into boiling, stinking cattle trucks… for three days and nights”, then marched through the jungle at riflepoint and onto bamboo boats to riverside camps.

He recounts incidents in which fellow POWs were beaten to death for standing up to Japanese soldiers.  

“The guards watched us constantly. If we weren’t ‘speedo’ enough, they’d slap us around the face: three, four, five times,” Twigg recalls. “Show defiance and the slaps become punches… then the boots go in. You curl up on the ground. The rifle butts slam into your head and if you’re lucky, you’ll pass out. If not, it’s back to work. 

“By the end of the first week [in captivity], I’d come to a decision: escape was impossible, but I was going to survive. Darwinists call it the survival of the fittest; I’d call it survival of the most selfish bastards imaginable.”

Twigg explains how he began to focus on the jungle as “a fascinating new friend”, in his bid to endure the ordeal of living and working on the Death Railway. 

“The floor was alive. Frogs the size of guinea pigs struck up their interminable noise along the river bank as soon as night fell,” he says.

“Centipedes were six inches long. I never counted the types of snake: some were poisonous, especially the ones with bright colours, and you learned to watch out for them and keep away.

“The brown, sluggish river drew everybody like a magnet. We’d soak in it after a gruelling day’s work. We drank it, boiling it at first when we had the opportunity but afterwards not giving a damn. We bathed in it, peed in it, relaxed in it and cooked our rice with it. We lived alongside it, built bridges across it. And buried our dead along its banks.”

After the war, Twigg returned to Britain and worked as a warehouseman until his retirement. Survivor On The River Kwai is published by Viking.

Read the original story here.




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