Bridge Kwai

 Ludwig von Gress

We are still pretending to keep at least the semblance of balance, so for the WWII nostalgia music we turn to the south-east, to Burma, where during 1942-1943 the Allied prisoners of war were helping the Japanese to build the Siam-Burma Railway and its two bridges. During the construction, approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilians also died in the course of the project, chiefly forced labour brought from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, or conscripted in Siam (now Thailand) and Burma.

This is not really an Asian theatre war song as such. The melody is the “Colonel Bogey” march, originally written in 1914 by a British Bandmaster Frederick J. Ricketts and later, in the next war, sang as “Hitler Has Only Got One Ball”.

 Hitler has only got one ball,

Göring has two but very small,

Himmler is somewhat sim’lar,

But poor Goebbels has no balls at all.

Another version:

Hitler: he had but one left ball,
Mussolini: he had none at all,
Stalin: he was three-ballin’,
And that’s the dictator’s rise and fall!

There were other (over fourteen) versions, but none tame enough for the producers of the 1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai movie, based on the book The Bridge over River Kwai by Frenchman Pierre Boulle. Thus the whistling only.

I will avoid the disconcerting issue of the wartime collaboration, raised both in the book and in the film. Pierre Boulle, who had been a prisoner of war in Thailand, created the fictional Lt. Colonel Nicholson (played by Alec Guinness) character as an amalgam of his memories of collaborating French officers. He strongly denied the claim that the book was anti-British.

The film and the melody became popular in late sixties. It was even played by military bands in Communist countries, until some prototype Finkelstein noticed that at the end of NATO manoeuvre’s the US imperialist and neo-Nazi armies were marching in Brussels to the strains of Colonel Bogey. Also, possibly, some proto-Conroy learned about the second version of the lyrics, mentioning Stalin. In Czechoslovakia at least, the communists immediately banned it and the army bands had to revert to safe Soviet melodies. Poles, I’m told, followed the suit much later.

It is interesting to note, that even before the comrades Conroy and Finkelstein could get their act together, in the last few years the march disappeared from the repertoire of bands playing on ANZAC day. The song was supposed to embody the freedom loving spirit and resilience of the British. We can’t have that now; Brits, white race etc. And with Putin in charge of Russia, you wouldn’t want to insult Stalin, would you?

About Ludwig von Gress

Born in communist Europe, interested in defence matters on a macro scale, with a cavalry “devil may care spirit” from his grandfather and cautious effectiveness of asymmetric warfare approach from his guerilla father. He sometimes despairs that he may be the only one taking the defence of Australia seriously.
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5 Responses to Bridge Kwai

  1. Victor says:

    Very amusing.

  2. Kelty says:

    Thanks for your post. Very amusing.

  3. Rachel says:

    The British are not what they used to be.

  4. Kamise says:

    Still no Bridge Kwai at the Anzac parades?

  5. Samuel Eaton says:

    Good music, good idea. When we get something like this about islamic cowards?

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