The tragic events of the Second World War are known across the whole world, everyone has an idea of what caused the war and what ended it. However, many people do not know that the war was truly fought across the whole world. While most well-known battlefields were in and around Europe and the North-Pacific Ocean, many horrific events happened across the globe. One of these tragic events is the Death Railway.
In 1943 the Death Railway was built by Japan, connecting Thailand and Burma (Myanmar). Japans objective was to build supply line between the countries to be able to defend Burma. The horrific part about this Railway is that it was not executed by the Japanese themselves but by the many Prisoners of War that were taken in the war. More than 180.000 labourers were forced to work on the construction of railway, with 60.000 being Prisoners of War and the others Southeast Asian civilian labourers. The labourers came from many different countries such as India, China, Thailand, but also countries such as Australia, Great Britain, and The Netherlands.
The whole railway was around 415 kilometres long, proving to be an immensely difficult and hellish task in normal circumstances let alone with the lousy equipment, the immense heat, and the malnourishment of the workers and prisoners. This led to at least 100.000 people that died during the construction, of which 12.621 were Allied Prisoners of War. 6.904 were British, 2.802 Australian, 2.782 Dutch and 133 Americans.
These Prisoners of War were in horrific circumstances, often having none to barely any food for days to weeks in a row. While the start of the railway went fairly smooth (ignoring the obvious fact that the circumstances were extremely horrific for the Prisoners of War), the issues came soon enough. With the rainy season having arrived in Thailand the passes in which the railway was supposed to be constructed started becoming soggy and muddy, eventually even flooding started becoming an issue.
This lead to harsher working conditions as labour became tougher and food became even sparser. The Prisoners worked together and helped each other out, and the groups that had experienced doctors did have a higher living rate. However many people still died in the horrific circumstances.
While the railway construction itself was already a well-known event in the Second World War, the movie The bridge on the River Kwai put more emphasis on what happened in Southeast Asia during the Second World War. The movie is about the construction of the bridge and is most definitely a must-watch for movie lovers and ones that want to understand more of the story around the bridge over the river kwai.
Another historical well known part of the Thai-Burma Railway is the Hellfire Pass, also known as the Konyu cutting. The hellfire pass is located further upstream and is together with the bridge over the River Kwai a well-documented area of the Railway. The hellfire pass got his name because of how the pass looked in the middle of the night. While prisoners worked in the narrow passes, torches were lit and reflected on the walls, creating a red and hellish atmosphere while you heard the many prisoners sing, cry, and scream all together.
Nowadays, both of the locations can still be explored to get an idea of the cruel circumstances of the Thai-Burma Railway. The bridge over the River Kwai is located in Kanchanaburi, which has a museum and a graveyard close-by. The graveyard houses the graves of most of the deceased Prisoners of War. Further upstream is the location of the Hellfire Pass which houses a museum telling the story of the pass and its workers & prisoners.