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Alec Guinness won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the dogmatic but brittle commanding officer in David Lean's film "The Bridge on the River Kwai". While a brilliant performance, it owed more to fiction than fact, as the man who actually commanded the POWs ordered to build the infamous bridges -- there were in fact two: one wooden, one concrete -- was cut from very different cloth. Lieutenant Colonel Philip Toosey was the senior officer among the 2,000-odd Allied servicemen incarcerated in Tamarkan prison camp, and as such had to comply with the Japanese orders to help construct their Thailand-Burma railway. With malnutrition, disease and brutality their constant companions, it was a near-impossible task for soldiers who had already endured terrible privations -- and one which they knew would be in the service of their enemy. But under Toosey's careful direction, a subtle balancing act between compliance and subversion, the Allied inmates not only survived but regained some sense of self-respect. Re-creating the story of this remarkable leader with tremendous skill and narrative flair, and drawing on many original interviews with Second World War POWs from the Asian theatre, THE COLONEL OF TAMARKAN is a riveting blend of biography and history.
Julie Summers is a bestselling writer, researcher and historian. Her books include :Fearless on Everest: The Quest for Sandy Irvine; a biography of her grandfather, the man who built the 'real' bridge over the River Kwai, The Colonel of Tamarkan, Stranger in the House and When the Children Came Home,a social history of servicemen returning to their families from the Second World War. She lives in Oxford.