Thursday 19 oct 2017
By Warrant Officer Grant Leepere RANR
Recently members of the Port Kennedy RSL and a few retired personnel from the Royal Australian Navy visited Bangkok and Laos over a ten day period.
During the Thailand leg of the visit they organised a day trip to the Kanchanaburi JEATH Museum, the War Cemetery, the Bridge over the River Kwai, Death Railway and finally Hellfire Pass.
First port of call was the JEATH Museum and Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. The letters JEATH represent the first letter of Japan, England, America, Australia, Thailand and Holland, these countries all lost soldiers during the building of the Death Railway.
The JEATH War Museum is filled with pictures, sketches and tools which depict various aspects on the way of life for the prisoners of war (POW) working on the railway.
The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery was in immaculate condition and something the Thailand Government should be proud of. The war cemetery contains the graves of 6,982 personnel all who perished building the railroad, which comprises:
- 3,585 British; 1,896 Dutch; 1,362 Australians; 12 members of the Indian Army (including British Officers); 2 New Zealanders; 2 Danish, and; 8 Canadians.
From here we ventured to the Bridge over the River Kwai which looked nothing like the one portrayed in the 1957 film.
Here we boarded a train to traverse the only section of the Death Railway still in operation.
Most of it was decommissioned in the wake of World War II, a 130 kilometre portion remains active at the behest of the Thai Government.
As one might expect, the carriages are far from luxurious, it's a simple set up of wooden benches that fits in well with the history of the railroad.
The Burma Railway, also known as the Death Railway, the Burma–Siam Railway, the Thailand–Burma Railway and similar names, was a 415-kilometre (258 mi) railway between Ban Pong, Thailand, and Thanbyuzayat, Burma, built by the Empire of Japan in 1943 to support its forces in the Burma campaign of World War II.
This railway completed the rail link between Bangkok, Thailand and Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon). After an hour on the old rattler we disembarked to visit the Thailand Governments Memorial to those who perished. This consists of a statue of Buddha situated in a cave just off the cutting and provides a nice local touch to honor the fallen.
After a short lunch break we rejoined our driver and headed to our final destination.
Hellfire Pass known by the Japanese as Konyu Cutting is the name of a railway cutting on the Death Railway which was built with forced labour during World War II, in part by Allied prisoners of war.
The pass is noted for the harsh conditions and heavy loss of life suffered by its labourers during construction.
Hellfire Pass is so called because the sight of emaciated prisoners at night by torchlight was said to resemble a scene from Hell. More than 180,000—possibly many more—Southeast Asian civilian labourers and 60,000 Allied prisoners of war worked on the railway.
Javanese, Malayan Tamils of Indian origin; Burmese, Chinese, Thai and other Southeast Asians, forcibly drafted by the Imperial Japanese Army to work on the railway, died in its construction.
12,621 Allied POWs died during the construction.
The dead POWs included 6,904 British personnel, 2,802 Australians, 2,782 Dutch, and 133 Americans.
After the end of World War II, 111 Japanese military officials were tried for war crimes because of their brutalization of POWs during the construction of the railway, with 32 of these sentenced to death.
No compensation or reparations have been provided to Southeast Asian victims.
Hellfire Pass was lost to the jungle in the years after the war when the railway was demolished.
The preservation of the Hellfire Pass itself had its origins in 1983 when former Prisoner of War J.G. (Tom) Morris toured the area in Thailand and resolved to convince the Australian Government that portions of the Thai-Burma Death Railway should be preserved as an historical site.
Now it is the site of ANZAC Day ceremonies, the location of the Australian government's Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum and a walking trail for visitors.
As you proceed through the pass you become aware of the silence and are overwhelmed with the magnitude of task forced upon these poor men.
You can’t help but to reflect on the horrors and hardships endured by all who were forced to dig out this cutting. A memorial awaits the visitors at the end of the walking trail; this is a time for a minute's silence and to reflect once again on the meaning of this place to all Australians.
If you are ever in Bangkok we strongly recommend taking the time out of your busy schedule to make the day trip to Kanchanaburi to pay tribute to all those brave men who were lost.
Lest We Forget