The Railway Man: The true story of a tortured prisoner of war
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The Railway Man: The true story of a tortured prisoner of war

It's not unusual to see people moved to tears when they visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Australian War Memorial.

But for Patti Lomax, hearing the Last Post echoing off the walls of the Hall of Memory brought back memories of a different kind.

The last time she heard those haunting notes, she was standing at the graveside of her husband, Eric Lomax, who died last year.

He was a British officer who was captured by the Japanese in Singapore during World War II and forced to work on the Thai-Burma Railway, where he was tortured by his captor.

Years later, still traumatised by his experiences, he and his wife decided to track down one of his captors, as a way of letting go.

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Mr Lomax went on to write a best-selling memoir about his experiences, The Railway Man, which has recently been made into a film starring Colin Firth as Eric and Nicole Kidman as Patti.

Mrs Lomax was in Canberra on Monday to lay a wreath on behalf of the Royal Signals Association, Berwick Upon Tweed, Northumberland, of which her husband was president.

She said hearing the Last Post had brought her to tears.

"It just took me straight back. Damaged army people are not the only ones who get flashbacks," she said.

Fortunately, her husband had lived long enough to see his story being made into a film, and he and Patti were able to spend time with the actors who were to portray them onscreen.

Mrs Lomax said the film, while transformed into a classic Hollywood narrative, had done a good job of conveying both the immediate and the lingering horrors of war.

"I think it does it very well, because although some of it can look over the top, it actually happened," she said.

"But I really feel that that is only part of the story. It is a story that shows you why somebody is behaving as they are in modern times, and what can happen with untreated battle stress with anybody, really.

"Eric just happened to have been in the Second World War in terrible circumstances, but it's an uplifting film insomuch that it shows that you can get over adversity and face your demons and come out the other side, and it's a very happy ending."

She said the line at the end of the film is the same one she had inscribed on Eric's headstone.

"He actually said it to me. The circumstances were just after the first meeting with [Japanese officer Takashi] Nagase. We went to the local cemeteries in [Thailand's] Kanchanaburi, a beautiful place beautifully kept, but all the headstones have got 19 years, 20 years, whatever, and Eric and I were apart from everyone else, and I said to him, 'You're not being disloyal to these people are we, by talking to the Japanese?'

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"He thought for a minute and then he actually said – and I remember it so well it's seared on my mind, really – 'Patti, some time, the hating has to stop'. And Colin Firth was so taken by that statement he insisted it was the last line in the film."

The Railway Man is due for national release on December 26.

Sally Pryor is a reporter at The Canberra Times.

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