- To the Kwai - and Back War Drawings 1939-1945
William Collins, London, 1986.
Quarto hardcover, 192pp., colour and monochrome illustrations. Minor wear; lightly spotted text block edges and offsetting to endpapers; a few scratches on rear dustwrapper panel. Very good to near fine otherwise and professionally protected by superior non-adhesive polypropylene film. "From Changi, Searle embarked with other POWs on a forced march to work on the death railway in Siam (now Thailand). He suffered variously beri beri, dysentery, ulcerated skin, and repeated bouts of malaria not much helped by a Japanese guard who drove a nail attached to a pickaxe handle into his body. A fellow POW, the Australian writer Russell Braddon, remarked that they would only have known that Searle was dead if he had stopped drawing. 'If you can imagine something that weighs six stone or so, is on the point of death and has no qualities of the human condition that are not revolting,' Braddon wrote, 'calmly lying there with a pencil and a scrap of paper, drawing, you have some idea of the difference of temperament that this man had from the ordinary human being.' The sketchbooks Searle brought home from Changi constitute a remarkable document of survival in the face of the grossest inhumanity and are probably the best visual record of war in the Imperial War Museum; and they formed the basis for this book, To the Kwai and Back: War Drawings 1939-45. His mastery of the fine balance between description and expression was by now fully achieved. He had become, almost incidentally, one of the finest topographical artists of the century," writes Michael McNay. Interestingly Searle had drawn his second St Trinian's cartoon in Changi ('Hands up the girl who burnt down the east wing last night'); and it was published in Lilliput in 1946 establishing the school (based on the now defunct St Trinnean's in Edinburgh) as a home of little monsters, wicked as sin. Much later, Searle turned down an invitation to stand for rector of Edinburgh University because, he said, he had done enough damage already to the city's academic reputation.
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