A Memorial To Those Who Lost Their Lives At The Thailand-Burma Railway Construction

Using primitive tools, prisoners of war and Asian labourers started the construction of a line that will connect the railway systems of Thailand and Burma during the Second World War. The Allied prisoners of war who suffered and died at ทางรถไฟสายมรณะ were laid at rest in tombstones designed in a semi circle while at Thailand’s end of the line; the men were buried at the Don Rak War Cemetery.

A 415-kilometer railway known as ทางรถไฟสายมรณะwas built during the Second World War by the Imperial Japanese army to connect the railway systems of Thailand and Burma. Based on British estimates, the railway can be finished within 5 years but this was unacceptable to the Japanese military because they have to send support to their troops in Burma.

It is believed that more 250,000 prisoners of war and Asian labourers worked on the railway with 100,000 sacrificing their lives. At the Thai end, construction started on June 22, 1942. In Burma, it was roughly same date that work begun. Tracks and sleepers as well as construction materials were brought from the dismantled branches of Federated Malay States Railway network and Netherlands East Indies.

There are certainly discrepancies between fact and fiction but in 1960, the part of the Mae Klong that passes under a popular bridge was renamed as KhwaeYai. The bridge was immortalized in Pierre Boulee’s book The Bridge over the River Kwai. A film that was based on the book was claimed to be highly unrealistic because it did not truthfully show the horrors that the men had to endure during the construction.

Since the 1990’s various proposals were submitted to rebuild the railway but nothing has been done. A large part of the Death Railway has been submerged under a hydroelectric dam and it would require extensive tunnelling around the mountains to reconnect the line between Thailand and Burma.

Several museums are dedicated to the men who suffered and lost their lives at ทางรถไฟสายมรณะwhere the largest number of deaths was at Hellfire Pass. Aside from the Australian memorial at Hellfire Pass, there are two other museums at Kanchanaburi.