A very British kind of hero, Cyril Wild was the public school educated son of a bishop, quietly-spoken, erudite and well mannered. Before the war he secured employment with a petroleum company in Japan, where he learned to speak fluent Japanese. This skill would prove very useful in the years to come...
At the outbreak of war, Wild volunteered to join the army and was serving as an officer when Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1941. Due to his language skills he was ordered to act as interpreter at the surrender to the Japanese by General Percival. Newsreel footage taken at the time shows the surrender party on their way with Wild initially carrying a white flag, which soon he casts aside contemptuously, suggesting that he was not a willing participant in the humiliating event.
Following the surrender Wild, along with all the other British servicemen were taken prisoner, and so began an ordeal that has become infamous in the history of the Second World War. The brutal and callous mistreatment of POWs by the Japanese in the gaols of Singapore and the labour camps along the Siam-Burma railway cause outrage when they became public knowledge after the war. Thousands of men were confined in miserable conditions, starving and plagued with disease in the tropical heat. Many died, and those who survived were never the same again.
It was here, in the labour camp at Songkurai, on the banks of the River Kwai -- made famous by the film Bridge on the River Kwai -- that Wild used his Japanese language skills to great effect to intercede on behalf of his fellow POWs with their Japanese captors. He saved more than one life, including that of James Bradley, the author of this book.
When the war was finally over, Wild had the satisfying experience of being present at the surrender of the Japanese to Lord Louis Mountbatten, once again acting as interpreter. He brought with him poignant memento of his years in captivity, the Union Jack flag that had once flown over the Governor's residence in Singapore. Wild had surreptitiously taken it and kept it during his POW years, when it was many times as a shroud at burials. The battered flag was hoisted once more, a fitting symbol of the suffering of so many in captivity.