Railway of Death
Images of the construction of the Burma–Thailand
In World War 2, twenty-two thousand Australians were
captured defending Malaya, Singapore, and the Netherlands East Indies. An
estimated 8031 died in captivity as Prisoners-of-War (POWs) of the
Some 13000 Australian POWs were transported to Burma and
Thailand to work on the 420 kilometre Burma–Thailand Railway where
nearly 2650 Australians died -- from disease, deprivation and horrendous
brutality at the hands of their captors.
AWM 157859. Hellfire Pass. Construction of the cutting commenced on 25
April 1943 (ANZAC Day). The excavation of soil and rock was carried out
using 8 lb hammers, steel tap drills, explosives, pinch bars, picks,
shovels and chunkels (a wide hoe). For a short time an air compressor and
jack hammers were used. The bulk of the waste rock was removed by hand,
using cane baskets and rice sacks slung on two poles. In an attempt to
complete the section on schedule, for the six weeks leading up to its
completion in mid August, prisoners were forced to work 12 to 18 hour
shifts around the clock, without a rest day. The Hellfire Pass section of
the Burma–Thailand Railway cost the lives of at least 700 Allied POWs,
including 69 beaten to death by Japanese engineers or Korean guards.
AWM 128455. Mess parade for prisoners of war of the Japanese at a camp on
the Burma–Thailand Railway. In theory the Japanese ration scale for POWs
on the railway included 680 gm of rice, 520 gm of vegetables and 110 gm of
meat or fish per man per day. At one stage at the 105 km camp in Burma,
the rations were so short that meals consisted of rice and boiled chilli
water. In Thailand, for the month of February 1943, Dunlop’s O and P
Battalions were entitled to 3212 kg of meat and 18,000 kg of vegetables.
They actually received 300 kg of meat and 4500 kg of vegetables.
AWM ART25077. ‘The march from Ban Pong’ by Murray Griffin, 1944, pen
and brush and ink 53.5 x 35.6 cm. Though in poor condition on their
arrival in Thailand (from Changi by ship), these POWs were then
force-marched nearly 300 km to their labour camp.
AWM 066376. Thanbyuzayat Allied War Cemetery, Burma. At the conclusion of
the war in August 1945, the graves of those POWs who died during the
construction and maintenance of the railway, between Thanbyuzayat and
Nieke, were transferred to this cemetery (except Americans who were
repatriated) including 1335 Australians.
AWM ART91848. ‘Colonel Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop and Captain Jacob
Markowitz working on a thigh amputation, Chungkai’ by Jack Chalker, oil
on cardboard painting 21 x 29.7 cm.
AWM 100946. Various types of improvised prosthetics and artificial limbs
used by soldiers who had lost either all or part of their leg and/or foot.
They were locally manufactured by soldiers at the prisoner of war (POW)
AWM 122309. This bridge, approximately one km south of Hintok Station, was
one of six trestle bridges between Konyu (Hellfire Pass), 152 km north of
Nong Pladuk, and Hintok, 155 km north of Nong Pladuk.
AWM P00761.001. Tamarkan, Thailand c. September 1945. The steel bridge
over the Mae Klong River (renamed Kwai Yai River in 1960) This bridge,
dismantled and brought from Java in 1942, was rebuilt by the Japanese
using POW labour. It was finished and operational by May 1943. Allied air
raids finally dropped one of the 11 spans in mid-February 1945. Two more
spans were dropped during raids between April and June 1945. Tamarkan is
55 km north of Nong Pladuk (also known as Non Pladuk) and five km north of
AWM ART25104. ‘Hospital ward, Thailand Railway’ by Murray Griffin,
1945-46, brush and brown ink and wash over pencil, heightened with white,
35.1 x 51.2 cm.
AWM P00406.031. Ronsi, Burma c. 1943. Funeral of a prisoner of war (POW).
The Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum in Thailand, a fitting tribute to the
more than 2700 Australians who perished during the construction of the
Burma–Thailand rail line and to other POWs in the Asia-Pacific theatre.
Photo courtesy OAWG.
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