Real Heroes – Captain Ernest Gordon
What does it mean to be a real hero?
The infamous bridge over the River Kwai, also known as the Death Railway, can be found at Kanchanaburi on the Myanmar border. During WW 2, Japan constructed the 250 miles railway line from Ban Pong, Thailand to Thanbyuzayat, Burma. The Japanese wanted the railway line to transport goods to India, as part of their planned attack on the country. The bridge was built by Prisoners of Wars, POWs, and Asian slave labourers who were kept in some of the worst conditions known in the war. The work started in October 1942 and was completed in less than a year. Thousands of labourers lost their lives and it is said that one life was lost for each sleeper laid in the track.
Captain Ernest Gordon
Ernest Gordon was born in Scotland in 1917. During World War 2 Gordon became a company commander with the 2nd Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. In 1942, whilst serving as a captain in this regiment he was captured by the Japanese. He had fought in several battles in the Malayan Campaign and the Battle of Singapore. After the capture of Singapore, he and some other troops escaped to Java, and attempted to sail several thousand miles from Padang to Sri Lanka. They were eventually captured and were marched with other POWs into the jungles of Thailand where they were forced to build the bridge over the River Kwai. Ernest spent three years in the Japanese prisoner of war camp surviving horrendous conditions. The terms of the Geneva Convention were ignored by the Japanese who made up rules and inflicted punishments at the whim of the Camp Commandant.
The Death Ward
The Death Ward was the barracks specifically used for those POWs who were believed to be close to death and would not survive. During his imprisonment Gordon underwent torturous events including malnutrition, malaria, dyptheria, typhoid, beri beri, jungle ulcers and an operation to remove a kidney without pain relief. All of this led him to be sent to the Death Ward.
Here he was treated by two soldiers – a Methodist named “Dusty Miller”, and a Catholic known as “Dinty” Moore. The two gave 24-hour care to Ernest. They would boil rags and clean and massage Ernest’s diseased legs every day. To everyone’s great surprise Ernest survived. Up to this point Ernest had claimed to be an agnostic and yet he could not help but be impressed by the faith he saw at work in the lives of these two men. Ernest saw that this example of real Christian faith survived and brought courage even when faced by the severe treatment of their captors. This encounter with a loving, sacrificial faith gave Ernest new hope and a new sense of purpose. But it wasn’t just Ernest who was touched by it. There were other acts of great sacrifice that began to shine through the darkness. Once, after a work detail, a guard believed a shovel had gone missing. He told the men that unless the culprit confessed all the men would be killed. A soldier stepped forward and stood to attention. He was beaten to death by the guard. It was later discovered that there was no missing shovel but instead there had been a mistaken inventory account made by the guard.
As Ernest gained strength the amazing Scotsman started a university in the camp in order to add purpose and direction to the lives of the men. At first, the school was held in secret but eventually the Japanese allowed it to be help in the open.
After the war Ernest became a minister in the church and eventually moved to Washington DC where he took up the post of the president of CREED, the Christian Rescue Effort for the Emancipation of Dissidents. In this role, Ernest helped several hundred dissidents get out of prison in Eastern Bloc countries. He knew first hand the conditions such people had to live under and he understood the importance of helping them to freedom. Ernest also traveled around the world, serving as a visiting lecturer at the University of St. Andrews, Moscow State Open University and International Christian University in Tokyo.