Walked along clifftop path from Flamborough Head under a near cloudless sky. Took this photograph on the return leg.
Sunday, May 31, 2015
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Have to declare an oblique interest in this title because it was written by a friend's grandfather.
Coogan's account details his childhood in Glasgow's Gorbals in the 20s and 30s, through to his athletic success with the Maryhill Harriers, to his call up for service in World War II in the Lanarkshire Yeomanry. This territorial cavalry unit was in the process of being subsumed into the artillery, and Coogan's battery - woefully I'll equipped - were shipped out to Singapore to face the full fury of the Japanese onslaught as it tore through Malaysia and Thailand to take the supposedly impregnable British fortress at the foot of the Malay peninsula.
From facing the horror of a banzai attack and a forced retreat to Singapore, to the brutality of imprisonment in the infamous Changi Jail Coogan presents an unflinching account of the sadism of his Japanese captors. The title is taken from a threat made to Coogan by a Japanese officer in response to a refusal to obey an instruction to stop digging a deep grave for a dead fellow POW (Coogan wanted to dig deeper than the permitted 18 inches to protect his friend's remains from scavenging animals). From Changi, Coogan and a small band of surviving comrades from the Lanarkshire Yeomanry, augmented by a changing group of British, Australian and Dutch POWs, are taken first to work as slave labour in a Formosan copper mine, then to a coal mine near Nagasaki. Enduring starvation, sea and rail transport in appalling conditions, and the casual violence of guards indoctrinated to believe that surrender made their charges completely worthless, Coogan never loses his belief in the innate goodness of humanity. While he encounters brutal treatment from some of his captors (two of whom he went on to present testimony against to the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal) he is eventually befriended by a guard who shares his love of running and, along with a Roman Catholic chaplain, manages to ensure the survival of a number of his comrades by stealing food from a variety of ingenious, and occasionally stomach-churning sources.
The book also highlights the futility and banality of war. He is scathing of the failures of those in authority, from Churchill's refusal to make proper provision for the defence of Singapore, to the senior officers and wealthy expatriate community who singularly failed to appreciate the danger posed by the advancing Japanese. A final indignity is recalled by the derisory £75 Coogan received as back pay on his return to Scotland. The payment, he recounts, was itself subject to a deduction for food and accommodation, giving rise to his observation that he was docked pay for the pleasure of being starved!
This searingly honest narrative pulls no punches but ends by bearing no hatred. In some ways it complements the Railway Man with its account of Eric Lomax's search for release from the brutalisation of such horrifying captivity in that this is an account of survival against the odds, but one that is suffused with a love for humanity. It deserves to be read by a wide audience. I hope also that it comes to stand as a testament to a passing generation that lived through World War II and stands as a counterbalance to the often cloying sentiment and sensationalised accounts served up on film and TV.