The “Death Railway” in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

By | November 17, 2013

The Death Railway in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Kanchanburi Province is Thailand’s third largest, is located approximately 120 kilometers(72 miles) west of Bangkok & shares a border along the complete length of it’s western edge with Myanmar(Burma).

Kanchanburi town is a very quaint & friendly place with hospitable & amenable people who take pride in their picturesque location. The town also has it’s fair share of inspiring Buddhist temples, lush greeneries, breathtaking waterfalls and captivating mountain scenery.

However, Kanchanaburi is made more famous(or infamous) by the Death Railway which is located close by, this was a railway line constructed during World War II by the Imperial Japanese Army, which cost the lives of over 100,000 POW’s(prisoners of war), Burmese & Thai’s alike! .

The Death Railway in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

The movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai” is a fictitious story of a factual events that took place during the Death Railway’s construction. The 1957 best movie awardee, catapulted the Death Railway and the movie’s lead character, Sir Alec Guinness, to “stardom”. Today, a visit to Kanchanaburi is not complete without seeing the infamous Death Railway.

The Japanese occupation of Kanchanaburi in World War II brought on atrocities, cruelties and death because of the Japanese Imperial Army’s fiery obsession to link Burma (Myanmar) and Siam (Thailand) by means of the railway to transport much needed supplies for the fight against the British in Burma(Myanmar).

The railway was called “the Death Railway” for it is believed that as many as 16,000 prisoners of war (Dutch, Americans, Australians and British) & up to 90,000 Asians who were forced to build the railway to ease communication and transportation of the Japanese armies died during it’s construction of a mixture of overwork, malnutrition & disease.

The Death Railway in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

It was in the Japanese army’s agenda to occupy the rest of Thailand and invade India which was part of the British Empire. The new route would connect Rangoon in Burma and the Bay of Bengal by way of Singapore and Bangkok. The then Prime Minister of Thailand, signed an agreement with the Imperial army to build the railway.

The railway designed by S.O. No was estimated to be built and finished in five years. This time frame was not acceptable to the Imperial army, so the P.O.W.’s & Asian workers were press-ganged into the construction. It is believed that up to 250,000 in total worked on the construction of the railway line.

Many died in constructing the railway, thus the moniker Death Railway. The Imperial Army’s cruelty was unparalleled as food was scarce, inhumane livingconditions, tortures as punishment and no medical treatment. It was said that “38 prisoners of wars died for every kilometer of the railway constructed”. It was also said “that for every sleeper laid a human life was sacrificed”. There were a total of 120,000 sleepers laid.

The Death Railway in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

The first wooden bridge over the River Kwai was finished in February 1943, followed by a concrete and steel bridge in June 1943. The Allies made several attempts to destroy the bridges, but succeeded only in damaging them in their first attempts.The bridge on the River Kwai was finally destroyed on 2nd April 1945.

Areas of the “Death Railway” line are still open today as a tourist attraction, and there are still plans to re-instate the complete length originally built, but it has never got beyond the planning stage to date!.

For further information about Kanchanaburi & the Death Railway please click the link.