You might think that this year is all about the First World War, but yesterday evening BBC 4 (of course) put on a compelling little programme about the Allied POWs who built the Burma railway and their captors. There are still veterans, over ninety years old. One is 100 and still working. What made this programme different was that Japanese veterans were interviewed as well. From the British we heard a lot about forgiving ‘the Japs’, not having hard feelings, getting on with their lives etc. Some had written books, some had never spoken about their experiences until this little film was made. The Japanese spoke of ‘obeying orders’ and ‘being brainwashed’. They tended to deny that they themselves had seen ill treatment yet said that today they felt ‘sorry’ for the sufferings of the POWs. Some seemed sorrier than others. As really old men, they looked back at the ‘horror of war’ and spoke of the need for ‘a peaceful world’. Interestingly, it was one of the Japanese veterans who mentioned the film The Bridge on the River Kwai, if only to say that he personally had never seen some of the horrors portrayed in it.
When I was a child, it must have been 1957, my parents went to see the film. Next day they reported that at the end, people in the cinema stood up and clapped. I don’t know why I remembered this, but later I realised that the audience weren’t just clapping because it was a good film. It’s hard for people my age to understand what a very recent memory the war was for our parents’ generation. I see the BBC programme is getting another showing and is available on the iPlayer. The most moving part of it for me was right at the end: the whistling theme from the film played over still photographs of the veterans, with subtitles about how they live now.