One Fourteenth of an Elephant: A memoir of life and death on the Burma-Thailand Railway
Macmillan, $30 pb, 518 pp
If This Should Be Farewell: A family separated by war
FACP, $24.95 pb, 333 pp
These two unusual books reflect on aspects of the prisoner-of-war experience in Singapore, Thailand and Burma during World War II that have not been much canvassed in Australia. One Fourteenth of an Elephant, Ian Denys Peek’s sometimes irascible ‘memoir of life and death on the Burma-Thailand Railway’, relates the experiences of a member of the Singapore Volunteer Armoured Car Company. Peek was British and had grown up in Shanghai, but was not taken into captivity there as was novelist J.G. Ballard (who recalled the experience in Empire of the Sun). Peek and his brother Ron were at the fall of Singapore. Soon afterwards began their movements between a series of hospital and labour camps along the railway. Peek’s story – his first book, published sixty years after his capture and told in the first person – gives a British perspective on a fate that he shared with thousands of Australians.