The prisoner-of-war who refused to forget

Memories led veteran back to Thailand, reports Ethan Casey in Bangkok

WHEN he returned to Kanchanaburi, two hours west of Bangkok, to live in 1987, former British prisoner of war Trevor Dakin hoped to make a personal peace with the horrors of war he had endured there under the occupying Japanese more than four decades earlier.

"I thought by facing up to the most horrific period of my life that I'd be able to put the bad memories behind me," Dakin, a former army corporal who died on 15 April told journalist Micool Brooke in 1990: "I burned bridges back home to come here. I expect to live and die out here. But not before telling my tale."

The visit of Emperor Akihito of Japan to Britain next week could be overshadowed by former prisoners of war who will demonstrate to demand a formal apology from the Japanese for their behaviour - an apology that Dakin always wanted.

His tale of life in a Japanese prison camp was so harrowing that even half a century later, telling it remained his only way to ease the pain. "It's a form of therapy," he admitted.

"He got lots of backpackers dropping in to see him," remembered Brooke, a 35-year-old Australian whose articles in the Bangkok Post newspaper first brought Dakin to public attention, and who became his close friend. "He loved it. It gave him a reason for being there; he was doing something constructive."

Some 16,000 British and other Allied prisoners of war and 100,000 Asian slave labourers died of disease, malnutrition, execution and torture building what became known as the Death Railway, a line from Thailand into Burma that Japan needed for its planned invasion of India. Dakin, who had been captured in the fall of Singapore in February 1942, was one of the lucky ones.

"When the war ended they wept for joy," said Brooke. "Whenever he told that story he always broke down crying. He would quote the sergeant major, Sandy Goodwin, who walked into the barracks and said, `Boys, you're free.'"

Dakin returned home to Luton, in Bedfordshire, but had difficulty rejoining society. `I didn't like what I saw happening to England," he said. "For pounds 67 I was able to start a new life in Canada."

There he worked selling encyclopedias for the next 30 years. "He said he learnt the art of salesmanship by trading with the Thais for food when he sneaked out of the camp during the war," recalled Brooke.

The two met by chance in a Kanchanaburi bakery in 1989. "No one had ever interviewed him before. He was just living there, completely unknown," Brooke remembered. "And without his story to tell, I wouldn't have written my book."

When Brooke published an article about the Death Railway in a Japanese newspaper, a man named Nagase Takashi read it and wrote to him. Nagase became well known a few years ago as the torturer of Eric Lomax, author of the bestselling memoir The Railway Man. Brooke arranged for Nagase, who has made seeking forgiveness from his former victims his life's mission, to meet Dakin at the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery in 1994. In his book Captive of the River Kwae [sic] (1995), Brooke quotes Dakin telling Nagase: "I respect you because of your tireless mission of atonement."

Until Dakin died, he and Nagase were planning to tour Japan together this August, to lecture schoolchildren about the Death Railway.

"Some people were suspicious: What was Trevor's motive for being friends with Nagase?" says Brooke. "But I had seen him give lectures to groups of visiting Japanese, and he pulled no punches ... He was just being open- minded and trying to get through to the next generation of Japanese."

Dakin's experience living in Thailand frustrated him. "He didn't understand the Thais, and he was upset that the Thais didn't understand him," said Brooke. "He had a deep personal reason for being here, and the significance of that just didn't dawn on many Thais, including his wife ... The symbol of the cultural gulf was the tourism and the annual River Kwai Festival, when they reenact the bombing raid that blew up the bridge, which he thought was a honky-tonk carnival."

Even more offensive to Dakin was the award-winning 1957 film Bridge on the River Kwai."It was disgraceful," he told Brooke. `There was never any bloody commando raid or any rubbish like that."

Dakin's health began to fail early this year. "It was a real experience watching Trevor dying and fighting for life,"said Brooke. "He had everything to live for. And he was fighting for life just as he did during his captivity, when all you can do is lie there saying "I'm going to live, I'm going to live."

Dakin left no will, so after contacting his children in Canada and negotiating with reluctant local officials, Brooke was left to carry out his wishes, cremating him and scattering his ashes near Chang Kai War Cemetery.

Chang Kai, four kilometres from Kanchanaburi, occupies part of the site of the PoW camp in which Dakin was incarcerated.

Asked if his friend ever did find peace, Brooke replied: "Probably not. Maybe periodically, for a few hours at a time. But overall he remained very confused and a bit resentful."

Dakin would have turned 78 years old on 15 May. "There have been a few Second World War veterans who have come back to Thailand to live," said Brooke. "But he was the last."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Helpdesk Team Leader / Manager

£45000 per annum + pension,medical: Ashdown Group: A successful & reputable gl...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Project Manager

£35000 per annum + £5k bonus, car: Ashdown Group: A successful business that h...

IT Infrastructure Project Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A large and well established business is look...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born