Bridging the River Kwai

Kanchanaburi Travel Blog

 › entry 15 of 23 › view all entries
We came from Lopburi to Kanchanaburi, a nightmare west-bound journey which seemed fitting, somehow.

We got here at 4pm, having left Lopburi at 9.30am. The town is literally just three cemetaries, a museum and a few bars.

The Thailand-Burma Railway museum was closing when we got there, but let us in anyway. It was affecting, but it could hardly fail to be. The only aspect of the Geneva Convention that the Japanese saw fit to stick to during WW2 was keeping track of the dead. 99% of the POWs who died building the railway - it was much more than a bridge, there were 6000 British POWs alone, and 60 POW camps along the path of the railway - could be identified.

From what I gather, the men had no chance. Being shipped from Singapore, either overseas (facing with being bombed by Allied aircraft, as the Japanese refused to label their POW ships) or four days overland in a rice wagon; only to meet either a dustbowl (in the hot season), or a swamp (in the wet season). The area they worked in was - and is - rife with malaria, tropical ulcers and other diseases which you don't recover from. Meals were all rice; if the diseases didn't get you, malnutrition would. POWs who were hsopitalised were not fed, as it was thought this would encourage them to get back to work. The museum had a surprisingly large amount of personal belongings - if a camp was hit by cholera, the plaque said, everything was buried in an attempt to stop the disease spreading.

Six men who were in the camps escaped and survived thanks to locals. The rest died on the railway, or in Singapore camps, on forced marches after Germany surrendered.

The Allied Cemetary is directly opposite the museum.  Tomorrow, in the morning, I'm going to track down my great-uncle.
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photo by: wbboy29