Hollywood actor makes secret visit to Northumberland grave

Colin Firth
Colin Firth

Oscar winner Colin Firth has made a secret visit to Berwick to pay his respects at the grave of Railway Man Eric Lomax.

In a private visit to the cemetery, the star sprinkled silver sand from a beach in Shetland, the birthplace of Lomax’s mother, Elizabeth.

It was the love of his mother that sustained Lomax during his terrible experiences as a PoW but when he arrived home in 1945 he was distraught to find she had died and his father had remarried.

The sand came from a beach on Unst where the Lomaxes had gathered it a few years before and kept in a small bottle which had been washed up by the tide.

“I just came across the sand when I was sorting through Eric’s belongings and the fact that he kept it so long showed how much he treasured the contents. It seemed appropriate to ask Colin to scatter it on Eric’s grave,” said Patti.

“It is quite lovely that he took the time to visit. He and Eric hit it off right from the beginning and Colin has always said that the film really affected him.”

Firth played Lomax in The Railway Man, based on Lomax’s best-selling autobiography of the same name which tells of his horrific ordeal at the hands of the Japanese during the Second World War.

It was filmed primarily in Berwick and other locations in north Northumberland and then was premiered regionally at Berwick Maltings and Alnwick Playhouse.

Firth visited the Lomax’s home several times before filming began and developed a firm friendship with the couple as well as a love of Berwick where some of the film was shot.

Sadly, Edinburgh-born Lomax died, aged 93, in October 2012, before the film was released but Patti got to know Firth even more during their promotion of The Railway Man all over the world.

“Sharing the red carpet with Colin was quite an experience,” she said.

Firth has continued to keep in touch with her and said he would come to pay his respects at Lomax’s grave as soon as he could find a gap in his schedule.

“He felt quite strongly about it but I didn’t really expect him to come as he is so busy. However, I got an email on Tuesday to say he would like to come and visit the following day.”

Less than 24 hours later, Firth stepped off the train from London wrapped up in a scarf with his hat pulled low and moved almost unnoticed through the other travellers.

He was met by Patti who took Firth to her house where he stayed the night.

“He is around the same age as my sons so I just treat him as one of the family,” said Patti.

In the morning, the star explored Berwick on foot unnoticed as far as the lighthouse and walked round the historic walls of the town before going to sit on the bench dedicated to Lomax by the Royal Signals Association Berwick Branch. The Royal Signals was his regiment during the war and Lomax was the first president of the Berwick Branch.

Afterwards Patti took Firth to Halidon Hill where the Scots were beaten by the English in 1333 and which offers panoramic views over Berwick.

“He was impressed with that. We could see Holy Island and Colin said he would have to visit again when it is not bucketing rain as it was when they were filming one of the scenes from The Railway Man. He really seems to love Berwick and loves the special light there is here. He seemed very happy to be back and was saying how lucky people in Berwick are to be living here. He developed a soft spot for the town when he was filming here and says he will come back again - so I fully expect to get another surprise email in the future,” said Patti.