The JEATH War Museum
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The JEATH War Museum Kanchanaburi Reviews
Dec 22, 2007
There is a very moving side to Kanchanaburi. JEATH stands for Japan, England, Australia, Thailand and Holland - the five nations who lived and died on the 'Death Railway'. The town contains two cemeteries to the dead, which number over 100,000, and are just as much part of Kanchanaburi as the bridge and houseboat guesthouses.
The best of these and the most moving is the JEATH museum. This is a little way out of town, to the south, along the Pak Praek Road. It can be easily walked or cycled and opposite, is the gaudy Wat Chakkadan, a fully fledged Buddhist monastery. The abbot of Wat Chakkadan opened the museum twenty years ago to remind future generations of what happened in the war. Following the fall of Singapore in 1942, 60,000 POWs were marched north to the River Kwai. The Japanese wanted to build a railway for quick access for the troops to reach Burma. Their experts told them 3 years, but the Japanese were going to use slave labour to do it in 16 months. Over 50,000 POW's died of malnutrition, disease and abuse in the most terrible conditions.
The museum itself is on the banks of the river Kwai, consisting of a war memorial based around a bodhi tree and a replica of one of the huts. Inside are photos harking back to that era, which really bring the horrors home to you. There are pictures of Japanese soldiers standing beside the bridge, newspaper cuttings of those who were liberated, and a map showing the forty or more camps that were strung along the River Kwai.
More harrowing were the portraits: the British prisoner, Jack Walker, managed to make etchings on pieces of smuggled paper of what he had witnessed. These were elaborated when he was released and hung in the museum. They are not for the faint of heart. There are pictures of cadaverous men with skin afflictions and diseases being herded through the thick jungle, hollow eyed prisoners being beaten, and those in the cholera tent being laid out to die. But the worse were the tortures inflicted by the Japanese guards including crucifixions with barbed wire. This was very shocking stuff and I emerged from the museum very thoughtful and looking at Kanchanaburi in a different light.
In town there is the Chukei war cemetery so if you want to pay your respects you may do so. But I believe that every visitor who comes to Kanchanaburi must visit the JEATH museum, they will come away a different person.
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