Updated: Apr 10, 2019
The River Kwai, the Death Railway, and Hellfire Pass
"Be happy in your work". Colonel Saito
Our home base was a tropical resort near the provincial capital of Kanchanaburi (River Kwai Resotel) when we toured many of the WWII memorials and sites associated with the Death Railway Route (The Bridge Over the River Kwai).
This area of Thailand can certainly be called a tropical paradise with the lush greenery, stunning mountains, glittering waterfalls, colorful flowers, and beautiful rivers. But for some, a trip here was the opposite of paradise.
Kanchanaburi is one of the main areas memorializing the thousands of Allied POWs a nd native Asians who worked under torturous and deathly conditions to build the Burma-Siam Railway (also named the Thailand-Burma Railway and Death Railway). More than 180,000 native Asian civilian laborers and over 60,000 POWs were forcibly drafted by the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII to build this railway and more than 100,000 of them perished in this area. Of the 12,000 Japanese soldiers (and 800 Korean soldiers), about 1,000 died during construction. After the war ended in 1945, just over 100 Japanese military officials were charged with war crimes and 32 were put to death.
We visited the famous river that inspired the book, The Bridge Over the River Kwai (Le Pont de la Rivière Kwai) and later the movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai. The river was originally named Mae Klong, but it was renamed after the book and movie were released---literature and tourism can be powerful forces. And, unlike the movie depiction, the bridge wasn't destroyed. There are still signs of the original construction and war damage to the bridge, though. We were able to walk the length of the bridge and see some of the original beams and square-head nails.
Remembering the terrible acts of war can be heart-breaking and unpleasant but it's important for us to remember ---- so we can work to stop repeating them. These memorials document acts of war, and honor the courage of those who served to preserve our freedom.