Touching bagpipes tribute to ‘Railway Man’ war hero on VJ Day

A Berwick Second World War hero immortalised on screen by Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth has been remembered on the anniversary of the end of the conflict.

Tuesday, 17th August 2021, 2:43 pm

Eric Lomax was captured by the Japanese in Singapore in 1942, later turning his experience as a prisoner of war (POW) on Thailand’s ‘death railway’ into a memoir, The Railway Man.

To mark his life, which saw him befriend his former captors, a bagpiper played a tribute to the former army officer at his grave in Berwick.

“I did it to commemorate VJ (Victory over Japan) Day,” said Iris Hannah, a former midwife who delivered ‘hundreds and hundreds’ of babies in the town during her career.

Bagpiper Iris Hannah plays a tribute to the Railway Man, former army officer Eric Lomax, at his grave, in Berwick. Picture from video by Andrew Blair

“I was going to the cemetery anyway and it was a bit of a spur-of-the-moment thing to just put my pipes in the car.”

She added: “I didn’t know [Mr Lomax] personally, I only knew him from The Railway Man, but it was for him and all the other men who died [or were POWs].”

A video of Iris playing The Battle’s O’er, a traditional tune composed in the late 1800s by Pipe Major William Robb, of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders regiment, was recorded to mark the 75th anniversary of VJ Day.

Iris stood by Mr Lomax’s headstone, in Tweedmouth Cemetery, for the musical tribute after visiting the graves of her son, William, and husband, also William, but known as Billy.

Bagpiper Iris Hannah plays a tribute to the Railway Man, former army officer Eric Lomax, at his grave, in Berwick. Picture from video by Andrew Blair

She was captured on camera by Andrew Blair, who had also been at the cemetery to visit the grave of his wife, Gladys.

The UK marked 76 years since VJ Day was declared on Sunday, August 15.

Mr Blair said: “I saw her wandering about with her pipes so I went to say ‘hi’ and she said she was there to play the pipes for Eric.

“Eric Lomax was a popular man about the town and it was a very moving occasion for a gentleman who had been through a lot in his life.”

Mr Lomax, who died in 2012 aged 93, was one of thousands of Allied POWs used as slave labour by the Japanese during the Second World War.

His memoir was later turned into a film, also called The Railway Man, starring Firth, as well as Nicole Kidman and Stellan Skarsgård.