To the Kwai – and Back
In 1939, as an art student, Ronald Searle volunteered for the army. Called up in September, he embarked for Singapore in 1941, where, within a month of his arrival there, he was a prisoner of the Japanese.
After fourteen months in a prisoner-of-war camp, Ronald Searle was sent north to a work camp on the Burma Railway. In May 1944, he was sent to the notorious Changi Gaol in Singapore and was one of the few British soldiers to survive imprisonment there.
Throughout his captivity, and despite the risk, Ronald Searle made drawings, determined to record his experiences. He drew his fellow prisoners and their Japanese guards, and sketched the places and people he glimpsed while being moved from camp to camp. He also recorded historic moments; the Japanese triumphantly entering Singapore, the planes dropping leaflets that announced the end of the war.
The drawings in this remarkable book were hidden by Searle, and smuggled from place to place, stained with the sweat and dirt of his captivity. They are a record of one man’s war, and are among the most important, and moving, accounts of the Second World War. They document the sacrifice of those who served in the Far East, and are testimony to Searle’s unique talent.
Ronald Searle was born in Cambridge in 1920. He served in the Second World War and was one of the few British prisoners-of-war to survive Changi prison and forced labour on the Burma Railway. He delighted millions with his comic creation of St Trinians, and has been a distinguished contributor to numerous magazines around the world, from ‘The New Yorker’ to ‘Le Monde’.
“This is a monumentally important book… More than just a drawn record of mainly unphotographed events. It is also a hugely moving indictment of man’s inhumanity to man that not even Goya’s The Disasters of War can surpass… This book should never be out of print.”
Peter Brookes, ‘The Times’
“Unique… one of the finest illustrators of the past century.”
Gerald Scarfe, ‘The Independent’
“You would have a struggle to name a greater cartoonist of the 20th Century, or, indeed, of any other century… Searle forged his life’s path in comedy rather than tragedy, for those who have been into the deepest, darkest abyss, the only way is up, towards the light.”
Craig Brown, ‘Mail On Sunday’
“To the Kwai – And Back is a handsome, and a moving testimony to the sacrifice involved in the tragedy of war.”
“As a young soldier, the artist Ronald Searle was imprisoned by the Japanese in conditions of the utmost horror. He never stopped drawing… his art enabled him to endure the unendurable.”