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210111 January 11, 2021


The Colonel Bogey March

 Looking Back at the Bridge
Tommy Towery
LHS '64

    The year was 1957 and I was 11 years old and living on East Clinton Street. My neighbors Buddy Crabtree and Mickey Drake and I spent many afternoons playing army. Much of our gear was real army surplus items which we bought from the Army surplus store downtown. We loved going to the movies and could not wait to go see The Bridge over the River Kwai when it was released. The movie ended up winning seven Oscars including Best Picture, Best Score, and Best Actor for Alec Guinness, and many things shown in the movie  influenced my young mind at the time.,

    I watched it again on Prime TV last week and realize how much of it was pure fiction and not the real historical based movie I thought it was when I was 11.

    One of the first memories that came to me was the jungle scenes with the men whacking their way through the jungle vines with their machetes. I was a Boy Scout at the time and I wanted a machete myself for camping and any opportunity to whack myself through the jungles of Monte Sano Mountain. I am sure I was influenced by the movie. The fact machetes were not authorized to be worn on the Scout uniform did not seem to matter to me at the time…I just wanted one. Eventually I did buy one and a canvas scabbard to carry it in and I remember hacking on small vines and bushes in the same manner I watched the soldiers do in the movie.

    The next thought I had when I re-watched the movie was how naïve I was, and how fooled I was about how the Japanese treated the prisoners of war in the movie. After hours and hours of watching documentaries on The History Channel and seeing how terrible the POWs were actually treated I am embarrassed at how easily I was fooled. Even the harshest treatment portrayed in the movie was nothing compared to how the POWs were actually treated by their Japanese captors. In researching the history of building the bridge I found that “During its construction, approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died and were buried along the railway. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilians also died in the course of the project, chiefly forced labor brought from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, or conscripted in Siam (Thailand) and Burma (Myanmar).”  The movie showed some men dying, but never the actual torture which they were forced to endure.

    The movie is based on a novel by the French novelist Pierre Boulle, published in French in 1952 and English translation by Xan Fielding in 1954. The story is fictional but uses the construction of the Burma Railway, in 1942–1943, as its historical setting. The character played by Alec Guinness is in stark contrast to the real leader of the POW camp who actually encouraged his men to do all they could to sabotage the construction of the bridge.

    Move ahead 15 years and I found myself actually in Thailand (Siam during World War II) and find there are tours to see the site of the bridge, which is not even at the place it was supposed to be built in the movie. The Vietnam War was still going on and I did not have the time to take a tourist adventure to see the sight, and the ones who did were very disappointed with what they saw. They, like me were expecting to see the famous bridge depicted on the large screen or at least a rebuilt version of it but everything was different. It was kind of like how I found myself fighting a war in Thailand. I found no jungles, no bridges, and no forced labor. I never even used a machete, but did buy one of the greatest jungle knives I ever owned.

    As for the bridge? "The major railway bridge described in the novel and film didn't actually cross the river known at the time as the Kwai. However, in 1943 a railway bridge was built by Allied POWs over the Mae Klong river – renamed Khwae Yai in the 1960s as a result of the film – at Tha Ma Kham, five kilometres from Kanchanaburi, Thailand.  Boulle had never been to the bridge. He knew that the railway ran parallel to the Kwae for many miles, and he therefore assumed that it was the Kwae which it crossed just north of Kanchanaburi. This was an incorrect assumption. The destruction of the bridge as depicted in the film is also entirely fictional. In fact, two bridges were built: a temporary wooden bridge and a permanent steel/concrete bridge a few months later. Both bridges were used for two years, until they were destroyed by Allied bombing. The steel bridge was repaired and is still in use today."

The Bridge today.

    Still, a movie is a movie, and in my extended age I now take them for what they are – just entertainment and very little historic accuracy.

    There is one final note I wish to add to this tale. Looking back I have come to realize the movie was the starting point for my love of movie soundtracks. Anyone who has ever heard the prisoners whistle the Colonel Bogey March can never forget it. I now have a collection of over 100 movie soundtracks, mostly instrumental and I love listening to them on Spotify and Pandora music.


        Memphis, TN - Hope all of you had a safe New Years Day and I hope this year turns the tide on this Covid problem. I hope I don't need to remind you but political topics are not allowed in this newsletter. This is a time and place for fun memories and interaction with our classmates.


From Our Mailbox 


Subject:    Thanks

David Mullins

LHS '64


    Thank you so much Tommy. You cannot imagine how much your dedication and discipline is appreciated by us my friend. I especially appreciate the current issue regarding so many of my lifelong friends who are deceased.

BLESSINGS to you brother and your lovely wife. Happy New Year.



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