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How to define a war hero

2012 October 10
by Paul Vallely

Eric Lomax as a young man

The words ‘war hero’ conjure up images of derring-do and courage in the field. Eric Lomax showed that bravery can take many forms. As a prisoner of war he was one of thousands of servicemen used as slave labour to build the Burma railway in World War II. He later described the terrible conditions there as a “descent into hell”. Post-traumatic stress plagued him for the rest of his life, along with a feeling that his service and sacrifice, like that of his fellow prisoners, had gone unnoticed. It only grew worse after he retired.

But when, half a century later, he finally came face to face with his principal Japanese tormentor he chose reconciliation not retribution. His act was one of the great testaments to extraordinary capacity of the human spirit for forgiveness. Eric Lomax, who has died aged 93, was a man of grace, modesty and exceptional generosity. Most of us may not capable of what he did but he sets a standard to which our society can aspire.

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