Railway Man’s counsellor dies

The woman who played a key role in the recovery of the late Eric Lomax, the former Far East Prisoner of War, has died.

Thursday, 28th August 2014, 9:04 am
Patti and Eric Lomax

Helen Bamber, who was instrumental in the completion of Mr Lomax’s best-selling book The Railway Man, died last week aged 89.

The news was broken to Eric’s widow, Patti, as she attended the Sarajevo Film Festival for a special screening of The Railway Man, the box office hit based on Eric’s experiences during the Second World War.

“I was very upset to hear of her death as we all became good friends,” said Patti. “She really was responsible for him writing the book.

“Helen also took a great interest in other local Far-Eastern PoW’s whom she met in our home every time she visited Berwick - she referred to these very mature in age gentlemen with great fondness as ‘her boys’!

“She made it her business, because she respected the Far-Eastern Prisoners of War so much, to take part in Berwick on Remembrance Sunday so that she could lay a wreath in honour of the men on behalf of her foundation. She did this for many years at the war memorial.”

Eric, who was tortured by the Japanese, first met Helen in 1987 when he visited her Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.

Like many former PoWs his experiences on the notorious Death Railway constructed between Thailand and Burma led to him suffering severe mental trauma for years after the war. With Patti’s encouragement he finally sought help from Helen’s foundation in London.

“After their initial meeting he told me it was the first time he had been able to speak to someone who listened and understood everything he was saying,” said Patti.

“To make it easier for the clients she always asked them to write down their experiences. Eric surprised us all by saying he had already done that. She looked at him and smiled and asked to see it. She then showed it to a few other people involved at the foundation and they all agreed it was an amazing social document because it was written at the time rather than being an old man’s memories. That was quite rare. It was actually used in the war crime trials as evidence against the murderers who killed two of his comrades and were responsible for the beatings. Two of them were found guilty and hanged.”

The book still had to have an ending which became the story of Eric’s reconciliation with the man who had played a key part in his torture, Nagase Takashi.

While writing the book, Eric continued to see the psychiatrist at the foundation’s headquarters in London, Dr Stuart Turner, whose mother and father, it turned out, used to live in Tweedmouth and ran the Oxfam shop in Castlegate. Dr Turner volunteered his services for the foundation and now practises in Harley Street.

Both Stuart and Helen counselled Eric against meeting Nagase as they feared it might cause him more psychological damage.

“The only thing they could compare it with was with someone who had been raped meeting the rapist.”

Eric disregarded their counsel and agreed to meet Nagase in Thailand with a view to seeking his revenge.

However on meeting the Japanese man, who had spent his life since the war trying to make amends for all the atrocities, Eric was convinced that his remorse was genuine and forgave him.

His book about his experiences and the eventual reconciliation became a best seller and a film based on the book was released this year to critical acclaim.

Oscar winner Colin Firth stars as the older Eric in the film and he was helped in his depiction by Helen Bamber.

Patti last saw her in April at her care home when she visited with the film’s producer Andy Paterson.

“We were able to show her the film; she approved and told me she thought it was very good,” said Patti.

“She was a remarkable woman and a great capacity to listen and to act on what she felt was the right thing to do.”