Eric Lomax, author who suffered horrors of Far East PoW camp, dies aged 93

Eric Lomax, prisoner of war. Pic: TSPL
Eric Lomax, prisoner of war. Pic: TSPL

ERIC Lomax, the author of the best-selling book The Railway Man which detailed his harrowing experiences as a Japanese prisoner of war, has died.

Mr Lomax, who was 93, died yesterday morning in Tweedmouth House residential home, in Berwick-upon-Tweed. His death came as the film of his book starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth is nearing completion.

Mr Lomax, who lived with his wife Patti in the town, had hoped to see the film which is due to be released next year.

Oscar-winning actor Firth had made several visits to Mr Lomax’s home to talk to him about his ordeal helping to build the “Death Railway” between Burma and Thailand, which led to the deaths of thousands of labourers, and his torture and interrogation in a PoW camp. Afterwards Mr Firth said that meeting Mr Lomax had helped him understand their experience, making the suffering of PoWs seem much more real.

He noted: “He’s incredibly approachable, as much as a person can be on a subject like that. He is 93 and not really demonstrating it at all. He is mentally far more agile than I am. I have to keep with him really.He has a tremendous sense of humour that can be a little dark at times. I found him nothing but a delight and you do feel a little overwhelmed by the enormity of the story you are going to tell.”

Mr Lomax, who was tortured for a week after guards found a radio the prisoners had built, nursed an intense hatred of his captors, in particular the interpreter present during the torture sessions. Unknown to Mr Lomax, the interpreter, Nagase Takahi, had suffered extreme guilt after the war, and dedicated the rest of his life to making amends for his involvement. Mrs Lomax encouraged her husband to reconcile with Takahi in an attempt to ease his psychological suffering.

Canon Alan Hughes, vicar of Berwick, who said prayers at Mr Lomax’s bedside with his wife Patti, said: “He was one of these amazing individuals who had seen the worst of humanity and yet was the best of human beings and the most forgiving.”

Gordon Smith, 92, from Peebles, who was also a Japanese PoW and worked on the Death Railway, paid tribute to Mr Lomax. Mr Smith, author of War Memories: A Medical Student in Malaya and Thailand, said: “I was very sorry to hear that Eric Lomax had died. I never met him but I heard his voice on one occasion when he and those with him were being tortured and some beaten to death after being accused of having a radio machine.

“It was a terrible noise and I’ll never forget it. We heard it through the air, them screaming their heads off as they were being beaten.”

Mr Smith added: “After the war we came back home and were loathe to talk about what happened, even among ourselves.Everyone else seemed to only be interested in the war being over an what was going to happen now. Only later did we decided that we wanted to put it down on paper, to make people remember.”

Keith Brown, MSP, veterans minister, said: “I was deeply saddened to learn about the death of Eric Lomax. The bravery and courage that this man showed during his time in service, including three and a half years spent as a prisoner of war in the Far East, was remarkable.

“He also set a fine example of forgiveness by returning to the Far East some years later and meeting with one of his former captors. He will rightly be remembered proudly by people across Scotland.

“Eric used to speak openly about the difficulties he faced adapting to civilian life upon his return from war. That should act as a timely reminder that we must do all we can to help all those Scots returning from conflict around the world.”