Mike Holt has been a friend for several years.  A talented and often controversial writer, his collection of short stories are rarely boring.  Last year he contacted me asking if I had any images from the Death Railway are of Kanchanaburi because he was writing a book about a fellow Australian who had lived through the hell of the Japanese POW working camps both in Thailand and Japan.  I was happy to provide the image used on the cover in the hope it would motivate others to pick this book from the stacks and learn more about what it was like to be a POW during the WWII era.

 

Mike Holt has been a friend for several years.  A talented and often controversial writer, his collection of short stories are rarely boring.  Last year he contacted me asking if I had any images from the Death Railway are of Kanchanaburi because he was writing a book about a fellow Australian who had lived through the hell of the Japanese POW working camps both in Thailand and Japan.  I was happy to provide the image used on the cover in the hope it would motivate others to pick this book from the stacks and learn more about what it was like to be a POW during the WWII era.

 

BkkSteve:  Marc of is it Mike?

Mike Holt:  Mike....I reverted to Mike when I returned home.   My real name is Michael, but the Thais heard Marc when I spoke with my Aussie accent, so I went with the flow and became Marc..  I thought the 'C' was more classy.

 

Mike....I reverted to Mike when I returned home.  My real name is Michael, but the Thais heard Marc when I spoke with my Aussie accent, so I went with the flow and became Marc..  I thought the 'C' was more classy.

 

BkkSteve:  I’ve always wondered about that, most of us here know you as Marc.  You lived In Thailand over 30 years?

Mike Holt:  Yes.  I went there for a week's holiday and never left, the longest holiday I’ve ever had.

 

Like many, I started out teaching English. In those days there were very few schools and the pay was awful.  I started working for Thong-in Phone who tried to rip me off.  Then I got a job working for an American for a while.  After that, I started my own school which did very well for 10 years.  Then my wife and I broke up and I sold the business.

 

BkkSteve:  I'm not going to ask about your personal life other than to ask how your wife and two girls are doing, but could you tell us about your professional life In Thailand over those 30 years?

Mike Holt:  Like many, I started out teaching English. In those days there were very few schools and the pay was awful.   I started working for Thong-in Phone who tried to rip me off.  Then I got a job working for an American for a while.   After that, I started my own school which did very well for 10 years.   Then my wife and I broke up and I sold the business.

After I bummed around Thailand for a while I joined Betagro Computer as Technical Manager, managing a team of about 12 Thai software developers.   I did that for 3 years, then started Holt WorldWide in 1997, the year of the big financial crash.   Mine was one of the few IT companies that survived.   I ran Holtww for about 10 years and sold it In 2008 to return home.

 

After I bummed around Thailand for a while I joined Betagro Computer as Technical Manager, managing a team of about 12 Thai software developers.  I did that for 3 years, then started Holt WorldWide in 1997, the year of the big financial crash.  Mine was one of the few IT companies that survived.  I ran Holtww for about 10 years and sold it In 2008 to return home.

 

BkkSteve:  A few weeks back I met a young American who was starting an English school over in the Ramkamhang area close to the university.   Do you think it's more easy or  more difficult to start a language school today as back when you did it?

Mike Holt:  Probably about the same.   If you work hard and do it right, you can still do well today.

 

BkkSteve:  That's good to know.  30 years is a long time in any country and I'm sure it takes a lot to prosper for that length of time in Thailand.   One of your skills is writing.  I’ve been a fan of a few of your writings for some time.  Can you tell us about them?

Mike Holt:  Yes, I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. My first published work was In the RAAF School Penang year magazine In 1962 called "A job In the army is what I want."   I’ve written lots of stories for magazines, newspapers, and various other publications, as well as about 130 short stories for various websites.  The short stories are mainly about my life In Thailand, but also some fiction, and some political essays.

 

BkkSteve:  This jogs my memory.  You went to high school In Malaysia?

Mike Holt:  Yes.  My dad was In the RAAF at Butterworth.   I’ve spent about half my life living In Asia.

 

Mike Holt:  Yes, I was posted to RAAF Ubon, in the NE of Thailand In 1967.  I have written a few stories about this for a local website.

 

BkkSteve:  And you saw military service In SEA?

Mike Holt:  Yes, I was posted to RAAF Ubon, in the NE of Thailand In 1967.   I have written a few stories about this for a local website.

 

BkkSteve:  What an interesting life!  I can relate somewhat to spending most of my adult life In Asia.

Mike Holt:  I’ve been very lucky.   Never a dull moment.

 

BkkSteve:  One of my favorite series of yours was written under "Foster Foskin", the only series equally entertaining was the adventures of Professor Earnshawe.

Mike Holt:  Yes, that very entertaining series was written by Mick.  Soon after he published Professor Earnshaw, he 'disappeared' after moving to Italy to teach.  I tried several times to contact him, and finally he got in touch this week.  I exchanged emails with Mick 2 days ago for the first time In a few years.   He's In Europe somewhere.   He has offered to send me some of his latest writing.  I'm looking forward to that.  He's a brilliant writer.  He invented the name Foster Foskin.   I loved it so much I immediately sat down and started writing what turned out to be a 20 chapter series.

 

BkkSteve:  Both are very entertaining.   I’ve yet to be clued In as to the identity of this talented writer, but needless to say he has a huge fan base as you yourself enjoy from the Foskin series.

Mike Holt:  Can't say too much about him as he values his privacy, but he's a Brit called Mick.  We only met a couple of times before he left Thailand.  I'm hoping we can meet up again sometime.  He's a very intelligent and entertaining chap.

 

BkkSteve:  I first visited Kanchanaburi and the war cemeteries, death railway museum, and the bridge over river kwai four years ago.   I couldn’t help but feel moved during my visit. The feeling you get visiting the place can't be described.   Mr. Rod Beattie, the curator and owner of the Death Railway Museum was kind enough to allow me to photograph inside the museum and told me a lot of the history.

Mike Holt:  Wait until you read POW 921.   When I was interviewing Colin he kept on telling me that no matter what he told me, it couldn't even touch the actual situation.   I couldn't believe anyone could live through all that pain and suffering and still remain sane.   Colin was an amazing man.   He was 89 when I met him, and he died a year later, just after I'd finished the book. 

I think he held on until it was written so that he could be sure the world would find out what it was really like.  I have walked along the railway, seen the wooden trestles Colin cut from the jungle, and even followed where the track used to be far into the jungle.  Did you know that the Brits tore up the track from Sai Yok Noi after the war and sold the steel?  They were determined to make as much money out of the war as possible, even to the extent of ripping off Aussie sheep farmers.  They paid the farmers a pittance for wool during the war and hoarded it.  Then they sold it for an enormous profit after the war. Colin was very bitter about that.

 

Mike Holt:  Yes.  He was my next door neighbor.  When we moved into our first house after returning home from Thailand, his wife welcomed us to the neighborhood and that's how I met him.  He gave me his memoirs to read and I was so intrigued I asked him if I could write a novel based on his experiences.  So I changed his name and wove in a love story throughout the book as well.  It all ties up very nicely at the end. I have included a list of most of the POW's who were imprisoned with Colin in Japan.

 

BkkSteve:  I'm looking forward to it.   I’ve read a couple biographies after my visit inspired more research, but you were able to live close to this man for some time?

Mike Holt:  Yes.  He was my next door neighbor.  When we moved into our first house after returning home from Thailand, his wife welcomed us to the neighborhood and that's how I met him.  He gave me his memoirs to read and I was so intrigued I asked him if I could write a novel based on his experiences.   So I changed his name and wove in a love story throughout the book as well.   It all ties up very nicely at the end.  I have included a list of most of the POW's who were imprisoned with Colin in Japan.

 

Mike Holt:  Personal, although he printed up about 1,000 copies and sold them to friends and other people who knew him or knew of him.  He also had a few newspaper articles written about him that just skimmed the surface.

 

BkkSteve:  Were his memoirs published or personal?

Mike Holt:  Personal, although he printed up about 1,000 copies and sold them to friends and other people who knew him or knew of him.  He also had a few newspaper articles written about him that just skimmed the surface.

 

 He was very gentle, and he hated war.  He was also an adamant atheist, so we had plenty in common.  I didn't know it at the time but he had cancer when I met him and he must have been in considerable pain, but he never let on.  He was an incredibly brave, stoic man.

 

BkkSteve:  What was the man like?

Mike Holt:  He was very gentle, and he hated war.   He was also an adamant atheist, so we had plenty in common.   I didn't know it at the time but he had cancer when I met him and he must have been in considerable pain, but he never let on.   He was an incredibly brave, stoic man.

 

Mike Holt:   The book is certainly inspired by him, and most of the events are based on what happened to him.  It's semi-fictional. where I talk about events in the war, or historical incidents, they are true.  It shouldn't be hard for the reader to pick what is real and what is fiction, although some events are actually based on my own war experiences too.

 

BkkSteve:  So he "inspired" your book POW 921, but the story In POW 921 is fiction?

Mike Holt:   The book is certainly inspired by him, and most of the events are based on what happened to him.   It's semi-fictional. where I talk about events in the war, or historical incidents, they are true.   It shouldn't be hard for the reader to pick what is real and what is fiction, although some events are actually based on my own war experiences too.

 

Yes, he was very quiet.  In fact, I was very lucky that he took a liking to me almost from the start.  His wife said that he told me things he hadn't even told her!  So I was very privileged to know him.  My wife and I both loved him.  It was very sad when we had to attend his funeral.

 

BkkSteve:  I can't think of a better way to gain information for such a book than to spend time with a man like this.  I’ve been privileged to know a few POW's from my time working at the Veterans Administration, and to a man they were kind and quiet, didn't like to talk much about their military life.  Was your man like this, and if so how did you get him to open up and talk?

Mike Holt:  Yes, he was very quiet.  In fact, I was very lucky that he took a liking to me almost from the start.  His wife said that he told me things he hadn't even told her!  So I was very privileged to know him.   My wife and I both loved him.   It was very sad when we had to attend his funeral.

Yes.  We understood each other.   Although I didn't suffer anything like he did In the war, we shared a common bond because of our war service.   I would go over to his place at least once a day, sometimes more.   And my wife worked for him and his wife cleaning the house and doing the washing/ironing.  So we developed a close bond with them.  Everything just flowed from there.

 

Yes.  We understood each other.   Although I didn't suffer anything like he did In the war, we shared a common bond because of our war service.   I would go over to his place at least once a day, sometimes more.   And my wife worked for him and his wife cleaning the house and doing the washing/ironing.  So we developed a close bond with them.  Everything just flowed from there.

 

BkkSteve:   He must have felt he could relate to you, or that you two shared some common ground.   Mr. Rod Beattie explained to me that over 2800 Australians were buried at the two war cemeteries in Kanchanaburi, beautifully maintained, and that recovery of their bodies was made difficult because during the period they'd make cemeteries by each camp which later had to be found?

Mike Holt:  Yes, that's true.  Often the POWs who died were flung into the jungle or buried in graves at the work camp where they died.  Sometimes, tigers roaming In the jungle got at the bodies.  I doubt that all the bodies have been recovered.  Did Mr Beattie mention this?

 

Mike Holt:  Yes, that's true.  Often the POWs who died were flung into the jungle or buried in graves at the work camp where they died.  Sometimes, tigers roaming In the jungle got at the bodies.  I doubt that all the bodies have been recovered.  Did Mr Beattie mention this?

 

BkkSteve: Yes, he said it was his lifelong endeavor to find as many of the bodies as he could and inter them In the cemeteries in which he is the caretaker.  He spends a lot of time along the old rail collecting artifacts and gaining information as to the whereabouts of these men.  Can you relate to us a few stories Colin told you about his own experiences?

Mike Holt:  After the 3rd chapter, which describes the fight for Singapore and the surrender, Colin was interned In the old British officer barracks near Changi.  He was put on work details for about 1 year, delivering rice to the Japanese garrisons, or building a road.  They had to level the top of the hill using just chungkol's, a kind of hoe.  The japs built a war memorial to their fallen troops.  But as Colin said, he could never understand them.  They also built a small memorial at the back of the Jap one to honor the fallen Allied troops.

The Japs were especially cruel to the Chinese, despite this, the Chinese Singaporeans would often do what they could to alleviate the pain and suffering of the Allied troops.  One little old lady put two buckets of water on the road as the POWs marched past.  The japs didn't see her do it at first, but when they saw the POWs drinking they chased the woman, beat her viciously, and eventually killed her.  Colin said it was bravery like this that gave the men the courage to stay alive.

 

Mike Holt:  After the 3rd chapter, which describes the fight for Singapore and the surrender, Colin was interned In the old British officer barracks near Changi.  He was put on work details for about 1 year, delivering rice to the Japanese garrisons, or building a road.  They had to level the top of the hill using just chungkol's, a kind of hoe.  The japs built a war memorial to their fallen troops.  But as Colin said, he could never understand them.  They also built a small memorial at the back of the Jap one to honor the fallen Allied troops.

 

Perhaps the most harrowing part of the book was the trip from Sinagpore to Kanchanaburi.  The POW's were crowded into steel carriages and left without food or water for the journey.  The only break was when the train got over the Thailand border and it stopped to take on more water.  The Japs let the men out and allowed them to wash in the water from the water tank.  Imagine a bunch of emaciated men, many in ragged shorts, jumping in the stream of water as a bunch of incredulous Thais watch.  The Thais had likely never seen a white man before.  Colin described things like this to me all the time.  Just little things that have given the book such a human touch.  Considering the inhumane treatment the Japs dished out, the POW's were very resilient. I gained such a lot of respect for them as I wrote.

 

Perhaps the most harrowing part of the book was the trip from Sinagpore to Kanchanaburi.  The POW's were crowded into steel carriages and left without food or water for the journey.  The only break was when the train got over the Thailand border and it stopped to take on more water.  The Japs let the men out and allowed them to wash in the water from the water tank.  Imagine a bunch of emaciated men, many in ragged shorts, jumping in the stream of water as a bunch of incredulous Thais watch.  The Thais had likely never seen a white man before.  Colin described things like this to me all the time.  Just little things that have given the book such a human touch.  Considering the inhumane treatment the Japs dished out, the POW's were very resilient. I gained such a lot of respect for them as I wrote.

 

BkkSteve:  Wow..  I can imagine it would strengthen their resolve for sure.  Changi is another "must visit" for those interested In the history or war In SEA, I spent a few weeks there myself.  How old was Colin when he became a prisoner?

Mike Holt:  Around 21.  I can't remember exactly, the date is mentioned In the book.

 

Mike Holt:  Possibly, but I think it was his resolve to stay alive, and the fact that he met some Malays before he was captured who taught him jungle survival skills.  Things like finding out which plants were edible, how to alleviate thirst with a pebble In the mouth, how to use bamboo to make utensils, etc.  He also realized that personal hygiene was very important, but even more important was boiling all his drinking water.  He avoided dysentery and other diseases using these skills.  The longer he was imprisoned, the more he hated the japs and that hatred kept burning deep down inside.

 

BkkSteve:  Still a kid In many respects, but a man for serving his country.  Do you think his youth helped keep him alive?

Mike Holt:  Possibly, but I think it was his resolve to stay alive, and the fact that he met some Malays before he was captured who taught him jungle survival skills.  Things like finding out which plants were edible, how to alleviate thirst with a pebble In the mouth, how to use bamboo to make utensils, etc.  He also realized that personal hygiene was very important, but even more important was boiling all his drinking water.  He avoided dysentery and other diseases using these skills.  The longer he was imprisoned, the more he hated the japs and that hatred kept burning deep down inside.

However, just before the Nagasaki bomb was dropped he almost lost his life.  All the POW's were being starved to death, but what was shocking was that they discovered after the surrender that the Japs had been keeping all the Red Cross packages of food and other things.

 

Yes.  He was working on top of a mountain about 35 miles away from Nagasaki, directly across the bay. They didn't know what the bomb was at first.  They thought the Navy munitions dump had been hit by a bomb.

 

BkkSteve:  Shocking though not surprising.   You said In the book he witnessed the Nagasaki bombing?

Mike Holt:  Yes.  He was working on top of a mountain about 35 miles away from Nagasaki, directly across the bay. They didn't know what the bomb was at first.  They thought the Navy munitions dump had been hit by a bomb.

 

Mike Holt:  The year before the war ended.  They were shipped up there.  They were very lucky they weren't torpedoed by allied American ships or submarines.

 

BkkSteve:   When did he get transferred from Thailand to Japan?

Mike Holt:  The year before the war ended.  They were shipped up there.  They were very lucky they weren't torpedoed by allied American ships or submarines.

 

BkkSteve:  That's for sure.  What an interesting story!  In your book, who was he able to fall In love with?  This isn't a Brokeback mountain story is it?

Mike Holt:  Ha ha. No.  He fell In love with a girl while on rookie training in Brisbane before he was sent to Singapore. I created the love story for the book, although the girl he fell In love with was real.  But what is really funny is that on the last day he was In the army he met his wife-to-be although neither of them knew it.  But his wife surely remembered his outburst just before he signed his discharge papers.

 

Mike Holt:  Ha ha. No.  He fell In love with a girl while on rookie training in Brisbane before he was sent to Singapore. I created the love story for the book, although the girl he fell In love with was real.  But what is really funny is that on the last day he was In the army he met his wife-to-be although neither of them knew it.  But his wife surely remembered his outburst just before he signed his discharge papers.

 

BkkSteve:  Outburst?

Mike Holt:  Yes.  He had been waiting around all day to sign his discharge papers, and just as he stepped up to the desk at 5 pm they told him that he would have to wait until the next day as the Padre had gone home.  He got a bit upset and told them he didn't want to see no damn padre as he was an atheist and didn't give a damn about any god. Remember that this is a man who suffered terribly for his country and the pencil pushers treated him like rubbish when he returned home.

 

Mike Holt:  Yes.  He had been waiting around all day to sign his discharge papers, and just as he stepped up to the desk at 5 pm they told him that he would have to wait until the next day as the Padre had gone home.  He got a bit upset and told them he didn't want to see no damn padre as he was an atheist and didn't give a damn about any god. Remember that this is a man who suffered terribly for his country and the pencil pushers treated him like rubbish when he returned home.

 

BkkSteve:  Hehe.. did they take the point?

Mike Holt:  Nope.  They made him wait overnight.  There's another funny story after this episode, but read the book to find out what it is.

 

Mike Holt:  Strangely, no.  He was showered with dust and cinders but it didn't seem to have any effect.  Strange that.

 

BkkSteve:  I sure will!  One more question about Nagasaki.  He was 35 km away.  Did he suffer the effects of radiation?

Mike Holt:  Strangely, no.  He was showered with dust and cinders but it didn't seem to have any effect.  Strange that.

 

BkkSteve:  Or maybe he was so used to pain and suffering he didn't realize it was affecting him.  I’ve seen this phenomenon before..

Mike Holt:  Nope.  He returned home quite healthy and never seemed to suffer any after effects from radiation. However, it took him a long time to fully recover from the treatment he received from the Japs.  He continued to suffer from Malaria, and it took a while for his ulcerated legs to heal.

 

Mike Holt:  Nope.  He returned home quite healthy and never seemed to suffer any after effects from radiation. However, it took him a long time to fully recover from the treatment he received from the Japs.  He continued to suffer from Malaria, and it took a while for his ulcerated legs to heal.

 

BkkSteve:  Marc, this has been a great interview and I'm sure the readers will want to read this book for themselves.  I'd like you to have the last word(s) about anything you'd like to talk about or say?

Mike Holt:  As you know, I write a lot, mostly short stories.  This was my first book.  Writing it was a very strange experience.  Sometimes, as I described the pain and suffering Colin went through I had to stop writing.  It was just too much for me, but I felt compelled to get the story down as quickly as possible.  I knew he wanted the story told.

I'm glad it's published now.  I know he would have loved to see it out there on the book shelves.  He always told me that the story had to be told so that future generations would know what really happened to men like him.  Some of his friends read the manuscript and they were as amazed at his resilience as I was.  One of them told me that he read the book overnight and cried at the end.  I hope that other readers feel the same way after they have read the book.

 

 This was my first book.  Writing it was a very strange experience.  Sometimes, as I described the pain and suffering Colin went through I had to stop writing.  It was just too much for me, but I felt compelled to get the story down as quickly as possible.  I knew he wanted the story told.

 

BkkSteve:  I admire your determination and respect for this man.  Thank you Marc.

Mike Holt:  Thanks mate.  A pleasure.

 

POW 921 can be ordered anywhere from Amazon # ISBN-10: 192179142X # ISBN-13: 978-1921791420 or from within Australia here