A River Kwai Story: The Sonkrai Tribunal
Allen & Unwin, $35 pb, 416 pp
These two books on the building of the Thai–Burma railway in World War II are very different in format and tone. Australian film-maker Patti Wright’s Men of the Line is an exquisitely designed collection of stories and images by Australian prisoners of war who were forced to build the railway for their Japanese captors. Wright describes her book as ‘a tribute to the ex-POWs who experienced the best and worst that human nature can offer and returned to tell the tale’. Canadian journalist Robin Rowland’s A River Kwai Story: The Sonkrai Tribunal is a solidly researched investigation that concentrates on F Force, the group of Australian and British prisoners that suffered the worst death rate on the railway, and the postwar war crimes trial that found seven Japanese soldiers guilty of the ‘inhumane treatment’ of these men. Rowland concludes that the Japanese did commit war crimes; she also exposes failures by Australian and British officers that increased the POWs’ suffering.