As rivers go there is nothing particular about the River Kwai. It is known less for its physical characteristics than for its association with the monumental struggle that took place along its eastern bank in 1942 and 1943 as a third of a million men strove to build a railway linking Thailand to Burma. What gave this railroad its gruesome notoriety was not its uniqueness as an engineering achievement, remarkable feat though it was, but the ruthless determination of its architects to have it completed on time, however daunting the task in the inhospitable climate and topography of the region, and regardless of the cost in human life. The conditions have been well-documented in POW accounts. However, when it was first published 10 years ago, Clifford Kinvig's book was the first to present a fully comprehensive evaluation of the railway episode in its strategic, logistic and manpower contexts. Now re-released as a B-format paperback, Kinvig's commendable examination of the River Kwai Railway uses Japanese records, together with prisoners' accounts, to explain the progress of this formidable enterprise.
He examines it not only from the viewpoint of the Japanese soldiers and POWs, but also from the perspective of the huge number of labourers recruited in Burma and Malaya, a mainly illiterate force who were unable to produce any coherent record of their experiences, and whose plight has been largely overlooked.
Major General Clifford A Kinvig has an MA in War Studies from King's College London. He has held posts at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, the Royal Military College of Science Shrivenham, and the Ministry of Defence. His appointments in the Royal Army Educational Corps took him to many of the locations featured in this book. He has written an earlier book about this episode in the Second World War and articles on military historical and strategic issues.