Singapore and The Thailand-Burma Railway
About The Author
Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Ernest Knights, DSO, MC, MM (1893-1971) was born and brought up in Great Yarmouth. In 1902, he was a junior apprentice on the barque Matterhorn, based in South Shields. In 1909, he began a four year apprenticeship as an ordinary seaman. In 1913, he became first a pupil and then a relief charge engineer in Great Yarmouth, before becoming a Charge Engineer and Relief Station Superintendent at Southport. He enlisted in the Royal Norfolk Regiment on 1 December 1914. During his time in France, from May 1915, he was wounded, awarded a Military Medal, commissioned, and awarded a Military Cross in 1918. After the war, he returned to Southport, resuming his pre-war post. In 1926, he became the Bury St. Edmunds Borough Electrical Engineer; and, in 1938, the Resident Manager of the Bury St. Edmunds Electrical Supply Company. All that time he was a Territorial in the Royal Norfolks. In 1939 he rejoined them. His service during the period from 1942 to 1945 is the subject of this book. He was awarded a DSO and a mention in despatches for his distinguished service whilst a POW in Malaya. After his return home, he became manager of the Fens Area of the Electrical Board. From 1947 to 1948 he was the Norfolk Divisional Manager of the East Anglian Supply Company. He died in 1971. A memorial service for his life was held in the Regimental Chapel of Norwich Cathedral on Sunday 24 October that year. How Air Marshal Sir Reginald Harland came to edit this book, following the marriage of his elder daughter to the son of Colonel Knights’s Adjutant, is fully explained in the Editor’s Introduction.
About The Book
This book presents one of the most vivid descriptions of day-to-day life in a Japanese POW labour camp to have appeared so far. The story follows the experiences of the Norfolk Territorial Regiment from 1942 to 1945, under the command of Lt. Col. Knights, during and after the fall of Singapore.
Many will recollect having seen the film, The Bridge on The River Kwai. It tended to fictionalise certain matters of fact. This book, drawn directly from a memoir only recently uncovered, reveals that the Japanese designed railway was successfully completed with the forced labour of Allied troops in conjunction with Chinese and Malay captives.
The Royal Norfolks were allocated a section of the line which required excavating deep cuttings in the rock hills parallel with the river. They had their ‘own’ camp with a Japanese officer in charge. He constantly pressed for quicker progress, and for work to be done by all the prisoners, including those in the camp hospital and their officers, contrary to international law.
The Regiment’s experiences are reported by Lt. Col. Knights in his book. He gives details of his own and others’ sufferings, both those inflicted by their captors and those occurring from tropical diseases and insects, all being worsened by a lack of medicines and food. Some of the local Thais, at great risk to themselves, provided a little of both of those commodities.
After the railway was completed, the survivors were marched back into Thailand. There they were required to dig a deep ditch round their camp. It was suspected that this would be their grave when they were shot, if the Japanese decided that they had lost the war. Fortunately the two atomic bombs resulted in the Japanese Emperor himself announcing their surrender, forestalling that action.