Hellfire Pass, Kanchanaburi
There were countless examples of excessive brutality during the construction of the Thailand to Myanmar (Burma) railway but the excavation of Hellfire Pass is possible the most horrific. In a joint project between the Thailand and Australian governments an emotional series of monuments of remembrance have be constructed. Hellfire Pass should be visited to understand the brutality that was experienced by the prisoner of war labours and to ensure such horrific actions are ever repeated.
Hellfire Pass, Kanchanaburi Tourist Information
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.
Part of the railway track as it passes through Hellfire Pass
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 memorial at Helfire Pass
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.