“The Railway Man” and Digger’s Story

I’ve just been to see the film, “The Railway Man.” What a terrific film, and imagine my surprise when I find out about Nagase Takashi whom I know a lot about from my late friend David Barrett. 

Digger’s Story written by David Barrett and Brian Robertson describes in detail David’s connection and eventual friendship with Nagase Takashi the alleged torturer in the film The Railway Man. Digger’s Story describes the reaction and behaviour of Nagase during September and October of 1945 immediately after the Japanese surrender in August of that year when both were members of the Allied War Graves Commission charged with locating and logging the positions of the bodies of the allied soldiers who died on the infamous Thai/Burma railway. David was charged with “looking after” Nagase by the allied officers in charge of the War Graves Commission project. They wanted little to do with him because he was a despised Kempeitai officer. The Kempeitai were the dreaded Imperial Japanese Army police. (Similar in function to the Gestapo in the German army.) Nagase confessed to David at this time that he was very worried about being arrested for war crimes. He never admitted to having tortured anyone but said that he was there only as an interpreter. David always had his doubts about the truth of this. But he and David had long conversations about the attitude of the Japanese to the war and why the Japanese treated their prisoners as they did. David believed that these talks helped engender in Nagase a realisation that what the Japanese Imperial Army did to their prisoners was very wrong.

Later on in life David, who in 1986 became the founder of the Australian Ex—POW Reparations Committee, was again in contact with Nagase for several years, who by this time was devoting his whole life and considerable resources, trying to make amends for Japan’s war crimes. David and Nagase had a long and mutually supportive friendship over many years until Nagase's death in 2011.

If you want more background to what you learned viewing “The Railway Man”, you will find it in Digger’s Story—Surviving the Japanese POW camps was just the beginning.