Hitch’s Tonbridge story

April 29, 2011 at 9:28 pm (class, hell, history, Jim D, strange situations, war)

Time for a little amusement, I think. Chris Hitchens tells the following story in his autobigraphy, ‘Hitch-22’. It’s from one Ian Watt, a friend and colleague of Edward Said’s at Stanford University and the world’s leading expert on Joseph Conrad. During WW2 Watt had been a prisoner of war and survived the Bridge on The River Kwia, the Burma Railroad, and the Changi Jail in in Singapore at the hands of Hirohito. He told Hitch the “following tale (in his) memorably laconic tone of voice.” To appreciate the tale, you need to know that “Tonbridge” was, and  still is, a British public school:

“Well, we were in a cell that was probably built for six but was holding about sixteen of us. There wasn’t much food and we hadn’t been given any water for quite a while. The heat was absolutely ferocious. Dysentry had begun to take its toll, which was distinctly disagreeable at such close quarters…

“Added to this unpleasantness, we could hear one of our number being rather badly beaten by the Japanese guards, with rifle-butts it seemed, in their guardroom down the corridor. At this rather trying moment one of my young subalterns, who’d managed to fall asleep, started screaming and flailing and yelling. He was shouting: ‘No, no  – please don’t…not any more, not again, Oh God please.’  Hideous noises like that. I had to take a snap decision to prevent panic, so I ordered  the sargeant to slap him and wake him up. When he came to, he apologised for being a bore but brokenly confessed that he’d dreamed he was back at Tonbridge.”


  1. The Judge said,

    This is just a variant on the story of a new batch of prisoners being brought into Changi. One of the PoWs already in there saw someone he recognised from school amongst them and called out, “Don’t worry, old boy, the food here’s not half as bad as it was at Marlborough!”.

  2. The Judge said,

    Can someone explain to me why the comment I left on this post (and the one I left on the post about pre-emptive arrests of dissenters) has now been deleted? Neither post was irrelevant to the issue under discussion, and neither contained (as far as I recall) anything which would cause serious pearl-clutching.

    It’s not that I’m precious about it, I’d just like to know so that I can decide whether to bother reading this blog in the future.

  3. The Judge said,

    Erm…scrap that – my original post has now reappeared. I swear it wasn’t there a couple of minutes ago…

  4. Ned Wade said,

    Another despicable posting, Denham. I’ll get you, I’ll hound you down, do whatever it takes to wipe you out, You were never any good at Hockey or Geography, were you? Yes, I’ll get you, it’s not too late, I’ll get you in the washing laboratories, on the hockey pitch, in the Chips Channon memorial hall. You’re despicable, yes despicable and always have been.

  5. sackcloth and ashes said,

    I remember the story about Roger Cooper, who was held hostage by the fascist theocratic regime in Iran, and spent 5 years in Evin Prison. He did have to deal with PTSD after his release in 1991, but at the time I believe he was quoted as saying that anyone who’d been in a public school and served with the British Army could handle being in an Iranian jail.


    It’s remarkable how courageous some people can be. I doubt I’d last five minutes – let alone five years – in a hell-hole like the Evin.

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