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Peter N. Davies – A significant legacy, including his involvement in the history of the Thai-Burma Railway

Peter N. Davies – A significant legacy, including  his involvement in the history of the Thai-Burma Railway
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01 Aug 2020

Belatedly, in these Covid-19 times, we honour the memory of author Peter N. Davies, Emeritus Professor at Liverpool University’s School of History, who died at his home in Caldy, Wirral, on 19 March 2020 at the age of 92. He will be greatly missed by his extensive circle of friends and colleagues around the world, but especially in the UK and Japan.

Belatedly, in these Covid-19 times, we honour the memory of author Peter N. Davies, Emeritus Professor at Liverpool University’s School of History, who died at his home in Caldy, Wirral, on 19 March 2020 at the age of 92. He will be greatly missed by his extensive circle of friends and colleagues around the world, but especially in the UK and Japan.

Davies’ scholarly interests, focused on maritime history, included the port of Liverpool, sea-based trade with West Africa, the Canary Islands and Japan, the international fruit trade and the military history of the River Kwai campaign in World War II. He was  a former President of both the International Commission for Maritime History and of the International Maritime Economic History Association. He also served as a Visiting Professor at Musashi University, Tokyo, and at Shudo University, Hiroshima. He is the author of  numerous books including The Trade Makers, Elder Dempster in West Africa (1973),  The Man Behind the Bridge: Colonel Toosey and the River Kwai (1991), The Business, Life and Letters of Frederick Cornes: Aspects of the Evolution of Commerce in Modern Japan, 1861-1910 (2008) and most recently, and perhaps most importantly, Across the Three Pagodas Pass: The Story of the Thai-Burma Railway (Renaissance Books, 2013).

This last work, which was the fulfilment of a long-held commitment (over twenty years) to see it into print, comprises a translation of the only known detailed account of the building of the notorious 262-mile long Thai-Burma Railway by one of the Japanese professional engineers who was involved in its construction. The author, Yoshihiko Futamatsu,* provides an invaluable new source of historical and technical reference that complements the existing large body of literature in English on this subject. 

Across the Three Pagodas Pass was edited by Davies, who in his Foreword provides the back story to the publication of this book and the key people involved. This is followed by translator Ewart Escritt’s original Introduction to his translation of Futamatsu’s memoir in which he provides a remarkable, detailed account of his life as a POW in various camps in Thailand (some of which were under the command of Colonel Philip Toosey of Bridge on the River Kwai fame), as well as his personal reflections on the war and the building of the railway. Many contemporary original drawings, maps and photographs appear in the plate section.

Davies had come to know Futamatsu through his research for the 1991 biography of Toosey, The Man Behind the Bridge, and secured his agreement that his memoirs could be published in English after his death.   

*Since publication, under the guidance of Kenji Oda, a group of Japanese historians have closely examined both the Escritt translation and Futamatsu’s later ‘revised’ account in Japanese of the building of the Railway – chapter by chapter of Across the Three Pagodas Pass . Renaissance Books has the complete file to hand for those researchers and historians who wish to examine the ‘Oda Files’ and review the extensive annotations his team have collated.