A real wartime romance meets an account of internment in a Japanese POW camp. Add a touch of cryptography and you have the story of beautiful Pamela Kirrage and stalwart Donald Hill.
In a sentimental WWII tale that could have been filmed by Carol Reed (with appearances by Trevor Howard and Wendy Hiller), a sensitive accountant becomes a dashing RAF pilot and meets a girl in the village of Tunbridge Wells, halfway between London and the Channel. Pam, spunky enough to be a lingerie model, showed them her knickers all right, but she was a good girl. One date, one dance with Donald and they were soon engaged to be married. But before the happy day, he was ordered to Hong Kong. The betrothal lasted nearly six years. He was imprisoned, with thoughts of return to his beloved his only support. He kept a journal, enshrouded in a complex code. In the camp, physical manifestations included dysentery, beriberi, pellagra, and endemic stiff upper lip. (Flight Officer Donald showed many symptoms, notably the last.) At home, Pam cooked tiffin for secret agents at Woburn Abbey by day and danced by night with the charmer who wrote powerful ditties like “These Foolish Things” and the mighty one about that nightingale singing in Berkeley Square. When Pam and Don were reunited at war’s end, they were finally wed and expected to live happily ever after. Alas, it was not to be. “At the level of hero and heroine, knight and maiden, they still functioned,” says the author. “It was ordinary living that defeated them.” The legacy of the camp tainted his life, their marriage, and their young family. Pamela took to drink. Finally they divorced, their love undimmed. After Donald’s death and just before Pamela’s, his wartime diary was decoded (and is appended). It tells of his imprisonment in the style of Mr. Pepys. The story is better told by Linklater in a text that might have been simple kitsch but for his evident affection and understanding.
A true romance, evocative of a passing generation and their triumphs and tribulations.