Eric Lomax, River Kwai Prisoner Who Forgave, Dies at 93
Eric Lomax, a former British soldier who was tortured by the Japanese while he was a prisoner during World War II and half a century later forgave one of his tormentors — an experience he recounted in a memoir, “The Railway Man” — died on Monday in Berwick-upon-Tweed, England. He was 93.
His death was confirmed by his publisher, Vintage Books.
Mr. Lomax, who was born in Scotland, was 19 when he joined the Royal Corps of Signals in 1939. He was one of thousands of British soldiers who surrendered to the Japanese in Singapore in 1942. Many were relocated to Thailand and forced to build the Burma Railway, also known as the Death Railway.
The building of the railroad and the brutality involved was portrayed in “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” the 1957 film directed by David Lean.
Mr. Lomax was repeatedly beaten and interrogated after his captors found a radio receiver he had made from spare parts. Multiple bones were broken and water was poured into his nose and mouth. One of his constant torturers stood out: Nagase Takashi, an interpreter.
“At the end of the war, I would have been happy to murder him,” Mr. Lomax told The New York Times in 1995, shortly after the “The Railway Man” was published and became a best seller.
In the book, Mr. Lomax described having fantasies about meeting Mr. Nagase one day and how he had spent much of the 1980s looking for information about him. He learned that after the war Mr. Nagase had become an interpreter for the Allies and helped locate thousands of graves and mass burial sites along the Burma Railway.
The men finally met in 1993, after Mr. Lomax had read an article about Mr. Nagase’s being devastated by guilt over his treatment of one particular British soldier. Mr. Lomax realized that he was that soldier.
“When we met, Nagase greeted me with a formal bow,” Mr. Lomax said on the Web site of the Forgiveness Project, a British group that seeks to bring together victims and perpetrators of crimes. “I took his hand and said in Japanese, ‘Good morning, Mr. Nagase, how are you?’ He was trembling and crying, and he said over and over again: ‘I am so sorry, so very sorry.’ ”
Mr. Lomax continued: “I had come with no sympathy for this man, and yet Nagase, through his complete humility, turned this around. In the days that followed we spent a lot of time together, talking and laughing.” He added, “We promised to keep in touch and have remained friends ever since.”
Mr. Lomax told The Times said Mr. Nagase’s later life resembled his own. “He has had the same psychological and career problems that I have,” he said.
A film based on “The Railway Man,” starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, is scheduled to be released next year.
Mr. Lomax was born in Edinburgh, graduated from Royal High School and took a job with the city’s postal service at 16, according to The Herald Scotland newspaper. After the war he enlisted in two more years of military service and rose to captain. He later studied personnel management and became a lecturer at the University of Strathclyde, in Scotland, even as his anger and bitterness created problems in his personal life.
Mr. Lomax is survived by his wife, Patti; a daughter from a previous marriage; and four stepchildren.
His search for Mr. Nagase began in earnest after he retired, in 1982. His wife, a nurse he married in the 1980s, wrote the first letter to Mr. Nagase on her husband’s behalf, and she helped arrange the 1993 meeting, which took place at the bridge on the Kwai.
“I haven’t forgiven Japan as a nation,” Mr. Lomax told The Times, “but I’ve forgiven one man, because he’s experienced such great personal regret.”