Saturday, August 15, 2015

Bill

Saw a bit of the VJ Day stuff on the telly and it reminded me of Bill. In the early 1960s, including one of the coldest winters on record (1962-63), I worked on a small dairy farm just outside Flint in North Wales. Bill was my boss, one of the kindest, gentlest men I've ever known. He taught me a lot, including how to care for the cows and their calves. We bottled the milk and sold it on a milk round in Flint, which wasn't easy when the streets were like an ice rink.

Bill had been a prisoner of the Japanese in the notorious Changi Jail and on the Burma Railway, where so many men died. One of his fellow prisoners was the artist and cartoonist Ronald Searle (famous for creating the St Trinian's delinquent schoolgirls). Bill told me that they were so hungry that they used to catch and kill snakes and cats to eat, but Ronald drew them first.

Searle smuggled lots of drawings out of the prison. This one is of roll call before going to work on the railway - click on the image to enlarge it. I asked Bill what he thought of David Lean's film, "The Bridge on the River Kwai", with Alec Guinness as the ridiculous British officer, Nicholson. Bill was seldom negative, but he became almost angry when he said that it was nothing like Burma - nothing could be that bad. Wikipedia says, "The largely fictional film plot is loosely based on the building in 1943 of one of the railway bridges over the Mae Klong...". Bill said it was almost all fiction.

I didn't stay long on Bill's farm - I left to go to art college. Bill said that he'd think of me whenever he saw a box of Kleenex, as we'd both struggled that cold winter with colds, coughing and sneezing through the snow drifts. Compared with what he'd suffered under the Japanese, that was nothing. On today's news I saw that some Japanese are proud of what they did in the war, and feel they have nothing to apologise for. Maybe they've forgotten about Changi and the railway.

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