WW2 montage

Railway of Death

Images of the construction of the Burma–Thailand Railway 1942–1943

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 Japanese.

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) Base Hospital.



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 Kanchanaburi.



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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