Social Whisper

The Thai-Burma Railway & Hell Fire’s Pass

Posted on: March 9, 2009

Friday we left early to visit the Thai-Burma railway museum and Hell Fire’s pass. As well as to see some of North Thailand this was the main reason I took this tour. I’d heard of the film ‘The Bridge over the River Kwa’ but knew nothing about it (to be honest though it was in Africa) and wasnt aware of the Thai-Burma railway its self.

The railway was built during the second world war by POW’s and people recruited throughout Asia with the promise of an with little work, and were under the control of the Japanese that had invaded Malaya.

To help with the advancement into the rest of Asia the Japanese decided to build a railway from Bangkok into Burma to speed up the transport of people and machinery.

Ignoring the Geneva Convention that states POW’s have to be treated with care and not used for labour or to aid military activities, the Japanese used the POW’s they captured during the invasion to build the railway for them.

The 415km stretch of railway was built in less than 2 years (20months). This was achieved by making the POW’s work 16-18 hour days with little or no breaks. Despite these long hours they were given little or food and water, and the Red Cross parcels were never passed on, even thought the Japanese werent using them themselves.

Starved beaten and tortured they were worked until they died. Over 100,000 people died with one of the POW’s doctors quoted as saying ‘The only way to stop the dying was to finished building the raiolway’. The number of people the died is the equivalent of one person for every sleeper laid along the railway.

Hell Fire’s Pass is one of the most infamous sections of the railway as it was one of the many of the large sections of mountain that the POW’s had to drill through. It name came from the fact that it used to glowed red at night like Hell from the fires as the POW’s were forced to work throughout the night.

Hell Fires Pass

hell fires pass

Visiting the pass is very intense and humbling trying to imagine the horror at what went on there.

One thing I find most surprising is that this is all relatively unknown in Britain and not talked about in schools. Especially considering that the British POW’s received the most fatalities than any of the other nations POW’s combined. 8540 of 30,000 British POW’s died – the largest number how ever in comparison was from recruited people from all over Asia who lost 80,000 people.

Other member of the group had the similar feeling and were each unaware of the sad history and why it hadnt been taught in school in each of their own countries.

It is a shame that this is the case as during the 20 months the POW’s received no letters or news and felt forgotten and abandoned and so it would be awful to think that this is the case all these years on now that they are no longer here.

After the visit to Hell Fire’s pass the afternoon was spent travelling on the Thai-Burma railway its self – on the same tracks laid down nearly 70 years ago. Unsurprisingly it was very bumpy and and some points you were almost thrown off your seat.

thai Burma railway

The afternoon was then spent kayaking down the river Kwai – amazing! Although I am rubbish at Kayaking (if i want in a boat with Nick I would still be there now) as I didnt get anywhere despite my efforts and just got blisters on my hands and lost some skin!


river Kwai


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March 2009
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