Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Death Railway And Hellfire Pass

Riding the railway from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok, as far as the rail goes now, is a sombering experience. I love travelling on a train, but everytime I felt myself get carried away with the clack of the tracks and the gentle rocking of the rickety carriage, I reminded myself of the sacrifices made to lay these very tracks down.

The train rolls across the bridge over Mae Klong River - made into the River Kwai by Hollywood and the movie of the same name, and then heads away from town through the countryside.

It soon glides over a Viaduct, on the edge of a mountain, and the wonder of how these POWs built this section returns.

They say that for every railway sleeper on this track, there was a POW death on the construction process.

We rode the train for 2 hours, before disembarking and then getting a driver to take us to the section referred to as Hellfire Pass, 18 kms away. The Museum here is managed by the Australian Department of Veteran Affairs, Office of War Graves, and it very well done. After walking through the rooms of information, we walked the paths to get down to the cutting that the Aussies named after the vision of themselves in the lighting in the cutting as they were forced to work long into the night, starved and emaciated, resembling scenes from hell.

The cutting is 25 metres deep at it's highest point, and was cut with the most rudimentary tools. Without even considering the state of the men forced to complete such work, this feat is incredible.

This is also the place where Sir 'Weary' Dunlop's ashes were spread, as a plaque reminded me as we got down to the track level of the pass.

Such an important part of Australian and Aussie Digger history, in addition to the other Allied and Asian labourers lost in this piece of WWII. A very important place to visit, and learn about.

Getting back to Kanchanaburi, Dave and I had our driver drop us back at the Bridge, and we had a very late lunch at one of the floating restaurants so we could take in the sunset colours highlighting the view. We even caught sight of a train crossing over, scattering the hordes of tourists getting their movie photos.


  1. The museum at Hellfire Pass really is well done. It's funny what our countries choose to remember - my partner is Dutch and even though his ancestors were involved in the Death Railway, he knew nothing about it until we got there. Likewise, their government looks as if they've chosen to forget as well. Something we'll both remember for a long time, regardless!

    1. Wow, that is pretty amazing, given the vast area of Dutch war graves there. We Aussies do seem to remember our war fallen in a significant way.
      Yeah, a very memorable visit and leaves a lasting, lingering feeling to think about, that's for sure.
      Thanks for the comment!

  2. I ended up at the Hellfire Pass when I was in Thailand in July. Admittedly, I went on a tour organised by some New Zealand teachers as we only had 10 days during school holiday, but otherwise I never would have known about or experienced the Hellfire Pass like we did.

    We got an audio set, with headphones and a player, and as we walked around the park, listened to survivors recount their experiences and memories of building the railway. It was really powerful to hear their voices, as they were raw with emotion. They'd have a chuckle, but then trail off as they remembered.

    It definitely gave me a unique perspective on the whole thing, as I didn't know much about that part of the war.

    Glad you experienced this too! Kanchanburri is lovely!

    1. Thanks for the comment.
      Wow, the audio guide sounds pretty good! I usually steer clear of them at touristy places, and like to experience it for myself rather than have something telling me what to see and when, but this sounds pretty amazing.
      Glad you got to learn about it, it is a pretty important place!


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