At the start of the Second World war, Denys Peek was living as a civilian in Singapore, with his brother Ron and his parents. Like most other able bodied expatriates, he signed up as a volunteer to help in Singapore’s defense. When Singapore fell, in February 1942, Denys and his brother became prisoners of war, interred with tens of thousands of other British, Australian and Commonwealth men.
Transported to Siam, Denys spent the next three years living in Japanese run labor camps, forced to work on the building of the Burma-Thailand Railway.
In appalling conditions these men fought to keep both bodies and spirits alive, whilst enduring harsh and unreasonable work expectations, limited food rations, no sanitation, and the dismal prospect of never seeing their families or their countries again.
Over 20,000 men died in the construction of the railway. Many times during his three year ordeal Peek faced the prospect of joining their ranks. Miraculously, he survived, spurred on by a stubborn refusal to die, the bond he shared with his brother and his mates, and, at times, by psychic happenings that defied explanation.
In One Fourteenth of an Elephant, Peek shares his story with an intimacy and openness that stirs deep feelings in the heart of the reader. Writing in present tense, he recounts events as they happened, taking the reader with him on his daily quest for survival.
This is a book which reveals horrific suffering, events and brutality that almost defy belief – yet it is not a depressing story. Peek’s own survival and the courage and humanity showed by his fellow prisoners are an incredible demonstration of just how people can triumph over the strongest adversity.
Powerful, evocative – essential reading.
One Fourteenth of an Elephant, by Ian Denys Peek
Pan Macmillan, 2003