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Return From the River Kwai, A Book Review

Discussion in 'The Pacific and CBI' started by belasar, Sep 23, 2012.

  1. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Return From the River Kwai, By Joan and Clay Blair, Jr. Simon and Shuster Press, 1979, 319 pages, Photo's and Index.

    This is the account of Commonwealth POW's, survivors of the construction of the Burma Railway, deemed "fit" enough to be sent to Japan on her infamous Hell Ships. A journey, suddenly and violently, ended by roving US submarine wolfpacks.

    About two thirds of these men were British and the remainder Australian. From the start of the narrative it is clear that the Aussie's were the more lucky of the two groups. Their section of the railway had a lower death rate due to conditions locally. They also were fortunate in being first sent to Saigon for transport. Tolerent guards, better housing, light work and aid from sympathetic locals allowed them to gain weight and strength back. The British, moved later were sent directly to Singapore and camped on a inhospitable spit of land to await the eventual arrival of the Aussie group.

    Once loaded aboard two ships the good fortune of the Aussie's continued as they had amoung them survivors of the HMAS Perth who took charge and organized them in the event of a torpedoe attack. Sadly, this was not done with the ship carrying the British PoW's.

    The Aussie Hell Ship (Rakuyo Maru) was torpedoed first by the USS Sealion and their luck held as the Japanese left the doomed ship so quickly that many rafts and at least one lifeboat were available to the PoW's for their escape. They were further aided in that the Rakuyo Maru refused to go down easily and remained afloat for the PoW's to return time and again for supplies and makeshift rafts. Every Australian made it off the doomed Rakuyo Maru.

    This was not true of the British PoW's aboard the Kachidoki Maru as she went down in about 15 minutes after being struck by the USS Pampanito. At first only Japanese were pulled from the sea, but eventually about 600 Allied PoW's were rescued by the Japanese, leaving hundreds more scattered about and left to the mercy of the sea.

    After spending days at sea, the pitifull few survivors were spotted by the Pampanito and rescue operations were begun. Summoning her packmate's, about 150 former PoW's were saved by the crews of 4 US Submarines.
    It is a testament to these men, who aboard ships not designed for the task and not trained for such things, that only 4 men died under their care.

    The book concludes with their trip back home and the eventual fate of most involved.

    Well written, my only complaint is that the fate of the 600 or so rescued by the Japanese are somewhat glossed over. Otherwise a book worth checking out about a little known event of the Pacific War.

    BR-XXVII
     
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  2. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    Thanks for the review. I think I'll pick up a copy of this book.
     
  3. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Generally I don't like 'PoW' books as they are so depressing in their relentless misery, but this combines their story, submarine operations and the wider politics into a readable whole. Fair warning though some of the content is a little disturbing to read, but to be expected of men left in extreme conditions.
     

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