The Railway Man: Suffolk PoW cinema's guest of honour

Sarah Page, Roland Baker, Vera Waspe Roland Baker was met by the Regal's Sarah Page and Stowmarket Mayor Vera Waspe
Roland Baker with two comrades from the Suffolk Regiment Pte Baker (left) joined the Suffolk Regiment in 1939 having served in the Territorial Army
Suffolk Regiment WW2 prisoners of war Photographs of Far East PoWs are on display at the Suffolk Regiment Museum in Bury St Edmunds

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A prisoner of the Japanese during World War Two has been given the red carpet treatment at his local cinema.

Roland Baker, 93, was invited to last month's London premiere of The Railway Man, starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, but could not make it.

The Regal in Stowmarket, Suffolk, stepped in to give him a special reception instead.

He worked as forced labour 1942-1945 on the construction and maintenance of the Thailand-Burma railway.

Rice diet

The Suffolk Regiment private was captured following the fall of Singapore in February 1942.

He decided not to attend the film's premiere in London because it was too late in the evening for him.

Thailand-Burma Railway

  • The 258 miles (415km) railway linked Bangkok, Thailand with Rangoon, Burma
  • An estimated 60,000 Allied prisoners and 200,000 prisoners from Asian countries worked as forced labour
  • The railway was completed in 1943 and many prisoners were kept in camps to carry out maintenance
  • An estimated 90,000 Asian labourers and 12,399 Allied PoWs died as a direct result of the project
  • 6,318 British servicemen died

Mr Baker, who lives at Bacton near Stowmarket, rang his local cinema to see if they would be showing the film, which is based on Eric Lomax's book about his time as a PoW in the Far East.

David Marsh, from the Regal, said: "We got chatting to him and thought it would be lovely, as he couldn't get to the London red carpet, for us to bring the red carpet to him."

Mr Baker said he helped build many large and small bridges, including the one over the River Kwai.

He said he and his comrades were fed on just boiled water and rice, which sometimes contained maggots, and by the end of the war his weight had plummeted to 5 stone (31kg) from his normal 11 stone (70kg).

'Went through hell'

"We were underfed, over-worked, had no clothes to wear in the monsoons, were often up to our necks in mud and we had to build our own huts as we moved up the railway," he said.

"I had an ulcer on my leg but I got over that, otherwise my leg would have been taken off without anaesthetic using a saw which we used to cut trees down."

Colin Firth met other veterans at the London premiere of The Railway Man

Two other prisoners of war of the Japanese attended the Stowmarket screening - the Suffolk Regiment's Pte Percy Wells, 91, from Woodbridge, and Harold Lock, 90, from Sudbury, who was in the Royal Navy.

Brian Wright, chairman of the Suffolk Old Comrades club, said 2,000 members of the Suffolk Regiment were prisoners of the Japanese and 760 died while working on the railway.

"Veterans don't always talk about their experiences as Japanese PoWs, but they went through hell," he said.

"This cinema event is a token of respect for the sacrifices people like Roland made for the world."

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