Miracle on the River Kwai

Captain Ernest Gordon was a company commander in the British army during the Second World War. He was captured by the Japanese and spent three years as their prisoner. During his captivity Captain Gordon – or simply “Ernie” to his friend – was forced to work building the infamous Thai-Burma railway line, including the bridge over the River Kwai.

In his autobiographical book “Miracle on the River Kwai” Ernie Gordon recounts how the barbarous treatment by their Japanese captors had caused the behaviour of the prisoners to degenerate. These British prisoners-of-war were starting to be cruel and malicious to each other, but then one afternoon something terrible happened. One of the shovels was discovered to be missing on the work site, and the Japanese officer in charge of the unit was furious. He ordered that the person who stole the shovel to come forward otherwise he would execute every last one of them there and then. It was obvious the Japanese commanding officer meant what he said as he pulled out his pistol.

Unexpectedly, one of the Scottish soldiers stepped forward. The Japanese officer put his gun away, picked up one of the remaining shovels, and beat the man to death with it.

When the violent execution was over, the other prisoners-of-war picked up their friend’s body and carried it to their next tool check. They planned to bury their friend’s body at the end of the day when they were given permission. As they again counted the tools they discovered that all the shovels were there. A mistake had been made in the previous tool count and actually no shovel had been stolen.

News of the soldier’s death travelled rapidly through the whole camp. An innocent man had willingly volunteered to die in order to save others.

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Captain Ernest Gordon’s book was made into a major film in 2002

The episode had an overwhelming impact on the entire prison camp. The prisoners-of-war stopped mirroring their captors’ degrading behaviour and they began to treat each other with kindness, just like brothers should.

The result of one man’s sacrifice for others created a miracle

Captain Ernest Gordon says he became a Christian in that P.O.W. camp, and when he returned from the war he became a minister of the Gospel. It was the examples of Christ-in-Action during his imprisonment – just like the fellow soldier who willingly died for others – that convinced Ernie of God’s sacrifice for each of us. Captain Gordon experienced the transforming power of sacrificial love.

Martin Luther King.jpg
Captain Gordon became a Christian in the Japanese prison camp and went on to become a church minister – working with Martin Luther King in the 1960’s to advance the civil rights movement.

Jesus says in the the Gospel of Mark: “For I did not come to be served, but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.” And our Saviour willingly died so you and I might live life more abundantly.

Sacrificial love has a transforming power. Won’t you accept the sacrificial love your Creator has for you, and come to the cross of Jesus Christ?



Click here to read the fascinating story of someone who dared take Communion alongside the Duke of Wellington.


About this blog: Pastor David Riley is a minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and lives on the Gold Coast in Australia. This article is from his “Reverential Ramblings” series – which you can subscribe to by clicking “follow” on this website.

Want to read more inspirational stories of faith from this series? Click here to read the inspiring story of an impoverished monk who stopped the carnage in Rome’s Colloseum 

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