Kanchanaburi, the home of the infamous Bridge over the river Kwai.
Our two days here were spent learning about the terrible plight of Allied POW’s and the Asian people at the hands of the Japanese during WW2.
Many of the graves which had been hastley dug along the Death Railway have now been excavated, and the fallen soldiers have been laid to rest at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.
As always, these War cemeteries are kept in immaculate condition, and provide a peaceful resting place for the fallen.
Overlooking the cemetery stands the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre Museum.
This is easily one of the best museums we have visited. What made it so special were all the personal stories from the soldiers. The curator is a Western man, and he has taken considerable time and effort to locate the families of the soldiers excavated from various graves, so they have closure. These family members have then sent in so many touching letters of thanks, with a picture of their fallen family member.
Many families have also sent the museum personal belongings from their family member who returned home from the war, along with photos, medals, and letters.
One in particular which i found very moving was one of the ceramic poppies which decorated the Tower of London for the 70th anniversary of Rememberance Day. It was in a display case with a picture of a handsome young man in his military uniform, his medals, and a lovely letter written by his son in memory of his father.
One of the most shocking facts for us was the amount of Asian people who died during the Japanese occupation. We all know there were huge casulties regarding the POW’s, but what about the people from Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam? The picture below shows the total of labourers/POW’s, and the total who died.
As you can see, the Asian populations really suffered. What makes this even sadder was none of these labourers received a proper burial – most of the 80,000 who died have not been located. Nobody knows where these people are. This is incredibly sad.
They were also treated much worse (if that is at all possible) than the POW’s.
So, our next destination was to go a visit one of the most infamous railways in the world, and see for ourselves what these men created through slave labour.
So a quick history lesson – The Death Railway was built during the Japanese occupation of Thailand in 1942-1943. The main objective was to join Burma (now Myanmar) and Thailand via a rail link, as it had become too dangerous for the Japanese to use the sea to ship soldiers/materials.
The terrain between these two countries is mountainous, and in the past plans of a railway link had been scrapped as it was deemed non-viable.
However, the Japanese were determined to build it, and within 16 months (and what should have taken an estimated 5 years), the Thailand-Burma railway was complete. However it was at a huge price. 100,000 labourers died due to the extreme conditions – starvation, disease, and some of the cruelest punishments known to man.
Hellfire pass is one of the most famous parts of the railway line. Apparently it’s name comes from the view at night by the labourers – inamoungst the rock there were lanterns burning so work could continue throughout the night. The silhouettes of the skeletal men working, and the silhouettes of the Japanese soldiers beating them, gave the impression of hell.
When you stand here and look at this huge slab of rock, and think of these starving men using rudimental tools such as hammers, chisels, and dynamite to make a passage through it, it really brings it home to what they went through. These young men, so far away from home, being treated worse than animals. How very brave.
We rode the train back to Kanchanaburi, using the very route the labourers built. The last station (and the one we caught the train from) on the line is Nam Tok, the rest of the line going towards Myanmar is not used.
We went over some steep viaducts, and the bridge over the river Kwai.
Overall our visit here was a very humbling experience, and at times incredibly moving.
Lest we forget.