In 1942, a group of Scottish soldiers were taken prisoner by the Japanese at Singapore. These captives were subjected to a cruelty so savage that it thrust them into barbarous behavior, pitting them against one another as they tried to survive.
But all that changed when a shovel went missing.
While building a jungle bridge one day – part of the forced labor inflicted on the POWs – a shovel went missing at a tool check point. The officer in charge of the Japanese guards went ballistic! He emphatically demanded that the missing shovel be produced or the Scottish soldiers would pay dearly for their carelessness, or worse, thievery. But no one from the Scottish line stepped forward to take the blame.
The officer then pulled out his gun and threatened to kill all of them right there on the spot. The prisoners only needed to look at their existing wounds to know he meant what he said. Finally, one Scotsman silently stepped forward from the line.
The Japanese officer holstered his pistol and proceeded to mercilessly beat the poor man until he died. When the gruesome moment finally passed, the horror-stricken POWs picked up the body of their fallen brother and carried it with them to a second tool check. Strangely, this time, no shovel was missing.
In fact, it was discovered that the missing shovel was nothing more than a miscount.
The tragedy had a profound effect on the prisoners: word spread like wildfire throughout the camp that an innocent man was willing to die to save others! The event changed the way the prisoners behaved; they ceased their conflicts with one another and began treating each like brothers, making sacrifices for each other to ensure their survival.
The sacrifice even impacted how the POWs saw their Japanese captors. When the victorious Allies finally swept into the camp, those Scottish soldiers were not much more than walking skeletons, but they lined up in front of the Japanese soldiers and insisted that they not be killed. They knew in that moment that forgiveness was needed.
That’s the power of sacrificial love; it’s unparalleled.
Miracle on the River Kwai by Ernest Gordon. HarperCollins, 2002.
Topics Illustrated Include:
World War II
(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)