Wednesday, 27 March 2019

A Place Loaded with Vicious Memories

By Leena

You might have heard about the name of the River Kwai Bridge in Kanchanaburi Province which is famous worldwide but you might not know about the Hellfire Pass situated in the same province where thousands of POWs died in the construction of the Death Railway.

The Hellfire Pass which was called "Chong Khao Khat" by the Thais and the "Konyu Cutting" by the Japanese is an important part of the Death Railway built during WWII. It is located 250 metres from the entrance to the Memorial Museum and is accessible by either the "Concrete Stairway Path" or the "Bamboo Grove Path". You are recommended to take the latter because besides providing visitors with an opportunity to walk into the cutting the same way that the POWs went to work, this path also leads visitors through a grove of large bamboos and allows them to look down from the vantage point above the entrance to the cutting.

The Memorial Museum at the Hellfire Pass was built by the Office of Australian War Graves in a joint project between the Australian Government and the Royal Thai Armed Forces Development Command, following a request by the Australian former Prisoners of War (ex-POWs) to establish a site in memory of their "mates" who never returned home.

The Hellfire Pass was chosen to be a historical place in the wake of a survey of the abandoned section of the railway undertaken by an Australian engineer who had assisted in the construction of the nearby Khao Laem Dam. The pass is one of the largest cuttings in Thailand and the most difficult section of the entire railway.

In addition, it was a group of 400 Australian POWs who commenced work at the cutting on 25th April 1943. They were later supplemented by additional groups, consisting of 600 British and Australian POWs. At that time, the Japanese Army had brought together 61,700 allied POWs and nearly a hundred thousand of forced labourers to construct a railway from Thailand to Burma in a great hurry.

These men worked 16-18 hours a day to complete the excavation of the 17 m-high and 110-m long cutting through solid limestone and quartz in only 12 weeks.     Since they were forced to work at night, the Konyu Cutting was dubbed "Hellfire Pass" due to the mixture of lighting from oil fired bamboo torches and carbide lamps that created an eerie illumination looking like the "Fires from Hell".

For visitors who would like to explore the railway track, there is a four-km. walking trail. The trail begins at the Hellfire Pass Cutting and leads to Hammer & Tap Cutting, Hintok Cutting and Compressor Cutting. It takes about five hours to complete the round trip. So, visitors should be ready for walking with comfortable shoes, drinking water and enough time to come back  before dark.

The Memorial Museum is a white one-storey building situated above the Hellfire Pass. It covers an area of about 200 sq.m. The exhibition is about WWII in Asia beginning with the first attack of Japan in 1941. The stories of the POWs' misery and the construction of the railway from Thailand to Burma are also exhibited via personal items of the POWs like letters, clothes and tools.

There are also paintings revealing the life of the POWs, their suffering, their illness and the brutality they endured. The exhibition ends with the fact that Japan was defeated and that the POWs received freedom.

Yearly, on the morning of 25 April at the Hellfire Pass, a commemorative ceremony takes place. It is led by the representatives of the Australian Embassy in Bangkok and joined by the surviving war veterans and the descendants of the dead POWs. Late in the morning, they move to place wreaths at Donrak War Cemetery in the provincial town of Kanchanaburi.

Duration of Visit : One day trip

Accessibility : Recommended to contact tour agents

Thai Name : ช่องเขาขาด จ.กาญจนบุรี

 

For more information, please contact Kanchanaburi Office of Public Relation on tel: 0 3451 2410

Special thanks to Kanchanaburi Office of Public Relation for arranging a trip to the Hellfire Pass.

 

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