Thai- Burma Railway War tour

Discussion in 'Scenic, Architecture, and Travel' started by saladin, Apr 26, 2016.

  1. saladin

    saladin Mu-43 All-Pro

    May 29, 2015
    i visited Konnyu (Hellfire Pass) and Kanchanaburi (Burma Railway museum, War Cemetary, Bridge over the River Khwae {Kwai} ) earlier this week. 'Tis sombre indeed. Particularly sobering is that my existence may well hinge on a twist of fate connected to this area.

    My grandfather was part of the AIF 8th Division. 2nd/14th Field Artillery. All bar his unit went into captivity with the collapse of Singapore and Churchill's stupidity in diverting the 8th to its useless fate. Most were pressed into service on the infamous Burma Railway. Many, many never saw home again. The Artillery boys were still in Australia completing some training and awaiting equipment when Singapore fell, still three weeks from dispatch. A month later and he most likely suffers the nightmare of Thailand/Burma. As such, the 8th Division Color patch was broken in two to signify the "Broken Division" and the 2nd/4th were used firstly in Anti-aircraft roles during the bombing of Darwin, and Pop then saw foreign action in PNG, Timor, Bouganeville and New England. Often in an infantry role with the terrain requiring boots and eyes on the ground rather than artillery shelling.

    He was a hard, distant and flawed man, who spoke rarely on such matters and certainly not to his grandchildren. He scorned Anzac Day in his early years, became largely estranged from his children following Nan's death but joined the RSL late in life to the surprise of many of us. I cannot claim to have known him well, unfortunately. He let no-one in, children should only speak when asked. But i have his service medals, some knowledge via handwritten notes he left behind and am gradually building a picture of what those generations endured both at the time and beyond.

    He and all who served have my unwavering respect and gratitude - it was 41 degree's at HellFire when we were there, with an "apparent" temp of 46. I cannot imagine building anything in such conditions, let alone a 450km railway in horrific physical condition and under the lash. 10,000 POW's perished on the way. Importantly, it needs recognition that an estimated 90,000 Asian slave labourers also met their end under Japanese brutality on this project.

    I suspect we still know not what they all gave, survivors included.

    Anyway, to my Pop, my great Uncle Fred ( Armoured Carrier division) and their comrades, wherever they may dwell:


    Above: The "Peace" memorial above Hellfire Pass looks across the Kwae Noi Valley.


    Above: Entry arch to Kanchanaburi War Cemetary. The Thai's maintain it in immaculate condition, they would view anything less as massive disrespect. One of the two war museums in the town is frowned upon by the locals as not being good enough.


    Above: Depending on which direction you choose to do the walk in, you can come upon the Konyu Cutting at its level, or from above. Our first sighting of it was from up top. There were actually two major cuttings done at Hellfire. That shown is 75 meters long and up to 25 meters deep. Elsewhere nearby, another cutting 8 meters deep and an astonishing 450 meters in length was cut into the mountainside.


    Above: More than 5000 Commonwealth soldiers are interred or commemorated at Kanchanaburi, plus another 1500 Dutch casualties. The war graves commission spent years recovering the deceased from jungle graves and consolidating them into three War Cemeteries. A second Cemetery exists at Chungkai on the outskirts of Kanchaniburi and the third is located in Burma. 133 American graves were repatriated home.


    Above: I'm a bit wary of the jingoistic attachment of flags etc to these sites. Certainly other nationalities paid the ultimate price here too. But this one didnt bother me too much. The climb over the ridge in the heat and humidity was bad enough. Then you stand at the bottom, look up and wonder how the hell starving and diseased men could accomplish anything at all in such a place.


    Above: Solid rock. Without mechanical equipment. The method was "Hammer and Tap". A chisel was held by one man. Another belted it with a sledgehammer. The chisel was rotated half a turn and the process repeated. When a hole had been bored 80 cm's or so deep, explosives were tamped in and fired off. The rubble was then handcleared with wicker baskets. Many were injured by flying slivers of rock which quickly turned into tropical ulcers and worse.


    Above: Original rails and sleepers from the Burma Railway are located at the site, having been re-laid in 1989 after the Aus Government undertook the clearing of the cutting and several kilometers of track. The wooden cross is dedicated to all Australian servicemen and women, and is actually poignant in its simplicity.


    Above: There were actually two bridges over the Kwai. The steel bridge shown here and a secondary timber bridge a few hundred meters upstream. The Japanese disassembled the steel bridge in Java and transported it to Thailand due to steel shortages. Allied bombing runs on the bridges were largely ineffective until late in the war when the americans developed early prototypes of "guided" bombs. Two spans of the bridge were destroyed in 1945, the concrete pylons still bear the scars. The trainline still runs as far as Nam Tok and the River Kwai bridge is in daily use.


    Above: 1,362 Australians lie in repose at Kanchanaburi. A further 1,348 are to be found at the Burmese end in Thanbyuzayat. The death rate ran at 22% of those Australians forced to work on the line.


    Above: Konyu Cutting proved to be a massive bottleneck for the Japanese timetable, so High Command issued new orders that the workforce should be pressed into 18 hour shifts per day. The infamous "Speedo" period saw the death rate spike to catastrophic levels as the men broke under the duress and brutality. The rate of progress demanded jumped from 80 cm per day to 3 meters! At least 69 Pow's were beaten to death by Japanese guards in six weeks. Far more died from disease and malnourishment. Work proceeded under flickering flame right through the nights, the ghastly scenes of skeletal men and tyranical guards prompting the enduring nickname "Hellfire Pass" by the survivors.


    Above: some research after i returned home suggests that just 52 of more than 10,000 Pow graves were unable to be found in the jungles around the Thai-Burma border by the war Graves Commission. These men were given a "known unto god" plaque to commemorate their memory and their names inscribed on a memorial wall. They are still out there, somewhere. Far from home but not forgotten.

    Lest We Forget.
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2016
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  2. Tenpenny

    Tenpenny Mu-43 Veteran Subscribing Member

    Mar 16, 2015
    Nampa, Idaho
    Brent Watkins
    Very moving series of photos and commentary. Well done Jason.
  3. NCV

    NCV Mu-43 Veteran

    Mar 9, 2016
    A very moving set of pictures.

    Often one cannot appreciate the horror and hardship endured in some places unless one visits the site. Your photographs convey very well the sensation of visiting this place.

    I had a similar but different experience when I visited the place of a bloody battle where the Americans broke through the Gothic line in Italy. Climbing up a very steep mountain path I had to ask myself β€œ how did they do it”. Something no history book can ever describe.
  4. tomrock

    tomrock Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 21, 2010
    Indianapolis, IN
    Great pictures and thanks for the story.
  5. moonraker

    moonraker Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Sep 6, 2013
    Wiltshire, UK
    I really enjoyed this post, very insightful and moving. I've read many accounts of the brutality on this railway, and still marvel and the fortitude and human endurance of the POW's. To many, it's the "forgotten war", which is a complete travesty.. If you want a real sense of what went on, I'd recommend this book, truly incredible..
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