Photography by Brian Moody
During the Second World War Eric Lomax was tortured by the Japanese on the Burma-Siam Railway. 50 years later he met one of his tormentors. His book, The Railway Man, tells the story.
If you are a victim of torture you never totally recover. You may cope with the physical damage, but the psychological damage stays with you forever.
In 1945 I returned to Edinburgh to a life of uncertainty, following three and half years of fear, interrogation and torture as a POW in the Far East. I had no self-worth, no trust in people, and lived in a world of my own. The privacy of the torture victim is more impregnable than any island fortress. People thought I was coping, but inside I was falling apart. I became impossible to live with; it was as if the sins my captors had sown in me were being harvested in my family. I also had intense hatred for the Japanese, and was always looking for ways and means to do them down. In my mind I often thought of my hateful interrogator. I wanted to drown him, cage him and beat him – as he had done to me.
After my retirement in 1982, I started searching for information about what had happened in Siam. The need to know is powerful. In the course of my search I learnt that Nagase Takashi – my interrogator and torturer – had offered to help others with information. I learnt that he was still alive, active in charitable works, and that he had built a Buddhist temple. I was sceptical. I couldn’t believe in the notion of Japanese repentance. I strongly suspected that if I were to meet him I’d put my hands round his neck and do him in.
My turning point came in 1987 when I came across The Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture. For the first time I was able to unload the hate that had become my prison. Seeing the change in me, my wife wrote to Nagase. The letter he wrote back was full of compassion, and I think at that moment I lost whatever hard armour I had wrapped around me and began to think the unthinkable.
The meeting took place in 1998 in Kanburi, Thailand. When we met Nagase greeted me with a formal bow. 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.” 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. It transpired that we had much in common. We promised to keep in touch and have remained friends ever since.
After our meeting I felt I’d come to some kind of peace and resolution. Forgiveness is possible when someone is ready to accept forgiveness. Some time the hating has to stop.
Eric Lomax passed away on 8th October 2012