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Burma Death Railway Kanchanaburi

The Death Railway (Burma Railway) is the name given to the railway that connects Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) that was built by the Japanese in the Second World War. The short section of track which lies on the boarders of the two countries is referred to as the Death Railway as the Japanese used Prisoners of War (POW) to construct the railway and so many unfortunate soldiers perished in the horrific conditions. The death railway passes close to Kanchanaburi and the city has become a centre for remembrance for all that died during the construction of the Burma Railway.

Details about the Death Railway Kanchanaburi

The railway was constructed by the Japanese in the Second World War after Myanmar (Burma) was captured. The only method for the Japanese to send supplies to Burma was by sea and these conveys of ships were easy attacked by allied submarines. The only option for Japan was to construct a railway through some of the most challenging landscapes in South East Asia. The British had considered the idea during the colonial era but had dropped the idea due to costs and significant difficulties. In the war Japan needed the rail route so stopped at nothing to construct the Burma Railway.

 

The 258 mile (415km) route was through thick tropical jungle, across wide rivers which had a tendency to flood and through undulating limestone hills. The route of the death railway meandered round huge limestone hills and had to cross numerous deep valleys and wide rivers. The bridge in Kanchanaburi made famous by the movie “Bridge Over the River Kwai” which is only 2 hours away from Bangkok, was bridge number 277. The massive project was started in June 1942 and quickly the Japanese realised the extent of the project. Natives and prisoners of war pressed into work gangs to speed up the construction. During the height of the construction just under a quarter of a million people were working on the project, of this number 60,000 were Allied prisoners of war and the rest were Asian labourers who were treated as equally as bad as the prisoners.

Death Railway Kanchanaburi History

The labours, both prisoners and natives, were forced to work in the harshest conditions, close to starvation and picked upon by brutal task masters. There are hundreds of examples of unnecessary torture but one of the most harrowing is regarding the use of dynamite. Labours were forced to ignite sticks of dynamite with short fuses which would explode before the workers could get to a safe distance; the reason for this was to save on fuse wire and “to make the labours work faster”. We simply cannot comprehend the awful conditions experienced by the labours on the death railway. The two sides of the railway were joined on the 17 October 1943 and the first train completed the route of the Burma Railway days later. At the end of the project over 16,000 Allied prisons had died as a direct result and many more of the indigenous labours.

 

The Burma Railway, death railway was bombed extensively during the final years of the war. Today the railway to the west of Kanchanaburi has been abandoned while the route from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok follows the original track. Kanchanaburi has become the centre of remembrance for all that perished during the construction of the Burma Railway for the following reasons: One of the most deadly sections, Hellfire Pass, was constructed close by. Bridge 277 is located in Kanchanaburi and was popularised by the movie “Bridge Over the River Kwai”. The allied cemeteries of the POWs who died in the region are located in Kanchanaburi.

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The POW railway that shaped history of the region