To witness the dark side of history

and pay respect to the deceased

The Death Railway

The Death Railway is as ominous as it gets for a name; however, it is also known as the Thai Burma Railway.

The tracks that spread for 415 kilometers between Ban Pong in Thailand and Thanbyuzayat in Burma have stories of horrors and hauntings to tell.

No, the tracks are not possessed or inhibited by ghosts and ghouls, but in laying the tracks, thousands of laborers died.  

Director Jonathan Teplitzky also made a famous movie, 'The Railway Man' depicting some horrors of the turmoil that tainted many lives for years.


The Death Railway


Why Did the Construction Begin? 

During World War II, initially Thailand has a neutral stance. Soon the country was occupied by the axis forces of Japan. Being a small country with limited militia forces, Thailand had no choice but to succumb to cooperate with the Japanese Empire and army.

The geological location of Thailand made it a perfect choice for Japanese forces since Thailand was close to Burma, then a British colony.

It became a suitable spot to prepare an offense against the British, except for a channel to transport goods, supplies, and troops. Since Thailand gave in for full support to the Japanese, the Empire had full access to infrastructures, such as labor services and prisoners.

Hence marked the start of the project, now known as The Death Railway.

The Construction of Tracks to Grave

The construction began sometime around the fall of 1942 in both countries. There are no verified statistics, but a reliable institution of the Australian Government insinuate the project had over 250,000 South East Asians and 60,000 Prisoners of Wars from Allied Countries.

What followed in the construction remains fully unaccounted for. But some survivors told tales that portray nothing but the accounts of brutality and horrors. 

Labors worked in harsh weather under scorching suns without appropriate tools for the job. Owing to the short supply of food, the laborers fell sick, contracted diseases that spread very quickly due to living conditions.

These laborers lived in squalor that was extremely unhygienic, which again contributed to various viral and diseases. It is estimated that over 100,000 people died in laying the track of The Death Railway.


Labors Worked in Death Railway


The Hellfire Pass

The famous bridge that was built over river Kwai is also denoted as Hellfire Pass. The bridge has been discussed in various movies and books and criticized for not doing justice to real struggles.

So, originally the bridge was built and bombed several times, only to hamper and delay. The bridge cannot take away the glory and terrors of the Death Railway. However, this piece of land goes down in history for major setbacks in continuing the track’s constructions.

Another reason to be dubbed as Hellfire pass is the removal of large rocks. Usually, with proper equipment, it would have been a matter of a day or two. But the laborers had tools not suited for the job and conditions that only signify the irrelevance and regard for human life.

Each day, laborers worked straight for eighteen hours and worked with torches at night. The Prisoners of War, recruited under the false pretense of job and better wages, were exhausted malnourished, and many died from dysentery and cholera. 

If they survived, the torcher of Japanese guards was no less to make prisoners plead and pray for death. Unfortunately, despite all the suffering, the particular section has never been used to date.

Another horrid fact surfaced years later. The project was finished way before the anticipated time; It indeed was the motive regardless of human life.

Those who survived tell the tales of how some jolly souls played music, goofed around, and made light of the situation to make survival easier and less bearing on the soul.

However, many merry souls took solace in the arms of death because of unfavorable conditions and accidents.


Hellfire Pass


Sad Legacy That Lived On

After the war ended, the tracks went under significant repair works to be serviceable and deemed safe to use by Royal Thai Railways.

Over 29% of British, 31 Australian, 23% American, and 19% Dutch prisoners of war died while building the tracks. Furthermore, over 90% of Asian laborers died.

These death are just estimates of death, and we fear true accounts would be horrors humanity may not be able to contain. Due to flora and fauna that grew over the land area, it is still believed the lands alongside tracks have more undiscovered mass graves.

Sadly, only 111 Japanese officials were tried for war crimes, and merely 32 were executed.  Today, about 130 kilometers of 415 of the track is used. 

Memorial and Museums in Kanchanaburi depicts some tales and displays the horrid conditions laborers worked in. Many tourists and visitors visit the museum to witness the dark side of history and pay respect to the deceased, known and unknown.