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Jack Jennings, P.OW. Who Helped Build Burma Railway, Dies at 104

WorldJack Jennings, P.OW. Who Helped Build Burma Railway, Dies at 104

Jack Jennings, a British prisoner of war during World War II who worked as a slave laborer on the Burma Railway, the roughly 250-mile Japanese military construction project that inspired a novel and the Oscar-winning film “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” died on Jan. 19 in St. Marychurch, Torquay, England. He was 104.

His son-in-law Paul Barrett confirmed his death, in a nursing facility, in an email.

They said they believed their father was the last survivor of the estimated 85,000 British, Australian and Indian solders who were captured when the British colony of Singapore fell to Japanese forces in February 1942.

A private in the 1st Battalion Cambridgeshire Regiment, Mr. Jennings spent the next three and a half years as a prisoner of war, first in Changi prison in Singapore and then in primitive camps along the route of the railway between Thailand and Burma (now Myanmar).

To build bridges, Mr. Jennings and at least 60,000 P.O.W.s — and thousands more local prisoners — were forced to cut down and debark trees, saw them into half-meter lengths, dig and carry earth to build embankments, and drive piles into the ground.

In his 2011 memoir, “Prisoner Without a Crime,” Mr. Jennings described the dangerous process of driving the piles, using a heavy weight raised by the men to the top of a timber frame.

“Two men generally guided the pile from a perched situation near the top,” he wrote. “This was a slow, punishing job, jolting your whole body when the weight suddenly dropped and the pile sank lower.”


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