Gallery: From Death Railway to red carpet, Roland is guest of honour at The Railway Man screening
PUBLISHED: 10:37 16 January 2014 | UPDATED: 10:37 16 January 2014
A movie which depicts the suffering of British prisoners of war will have a special resonance for one Suffolk veteran.
The Railway Man, starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, will be premiered tomorrow at the Stowmarket Regal cinema.
Based on the best-selling book by Eric Lomax, the movie tells the story of the infamous ‘Death Railway’ which British prisoners of war (PoWs) were forced to build in Burma by their Japanese captors.
The film relates how Lomax (Colin Firth), a British officer, is captured by the Japanese in Singapore and sent to a PoW camp. He is forced to work on the Death Railway.
During his time in the camp, Lomax is tortured, primarily for building a radio.
Years later, and still suffering the psychological trauma of his wartime experiences, Lomax, with the help of his wife Patti (Nicole Kidman), decides to find and confront one of his captors.
Roland Baker, a veteran of the Suffolk Regiment who will turn 93 tomorrow, worked on that railway.
The Bacton resident has been invited to walk the red carpet at the Stowmarket Regal as a guest of honour after he was unable to accept his invitation to the London premiere of the film in Leicester Square last month.
Roland was born in Stowupland and attended school in Mendlesham and Wickham Skeith before joining the Territorial Army aged 18. In September 1939 he was called up to serve as a private in the Second World War.
In 1942 Roland and the 4th and 5th Battalions of the Suffolk Regiment fought in the Battle of Singapore, before being ordered to surrender to the Japanese Imperial Army.
Roland’s three and a half years of brutal captivity began when British forces were ferried to Thailand in cattle trucks.
“We were taken from Singapore to Thailand for four days and four nights in cattle trucks,” he said.
“There were 30 inside and 10 on the top but when the sparks from the engine came out the 10 on top had to get inside, so there were 40 inside. We had to take it in turns to sit down.
“Then we landed in Thailand and were bombed by the Americans; that killed 100 in our camp.”
The prisoners had to build their own wooden huts for camp before constructing some of the 600 bridges needed to finish the line.
“All the bridges were built of wood cut from the jungle and we carried the sleepers on our shoulders,” Roland said.
“There was no padding, so the blood was running down our arms and backs and I still have the scars today. You can’t forget it and I’ll never forget it.”
Living on rations of water and one pound of rice a day, often infested with maggots, Roland and his comrades would often be beaten with pick handles or bamboo for making mistakes or not bowing to their captors.
“There was a whole division from East Anglia out there and two battalions from Suffolk,” Roland added.
“We had over 180 killed in action in Singapore in two weeks and then 638 died as prisoners of war.”
Among those killed were Roland’s friends from Stowmarket, Bury, Haverhill and Eye.
“I’ve got the names and addresses of every man who was killed as a prisoner,” he said.
Several months before his liberation Roland said he could feel the Japanese soldiers becoming kinder to the prisoners, and US planes would drop food and clothing into camp.
Then the prisoners heard a bomb had been dropped on mainland Japan which could end the war. They were liberated by British forces in 1945.
Having been alerted to the movie The Railway Man by his invite to Leicester Square, Roland contacted the Stowmarket Regal to ask about when they would be showing it.
Regal office manager Sarah Page said: “Roland is a lovely man and a real hero, so we thought, if he can’t make it to the red carpet, we’ll bring the red carpet to him.”