THE RIVER KWAI
Today I feature another famous construction, one they made a great movie about - The Bridge Over The River Kwai - Thailand. Where is it, and what is it? It is located in Kanchanaburi, near the Myanmar border; home to the famous Bridge River Kwai. During WW II, Japan constructed the meter-gauge railway line from Ban Pong, Thailand to Thanbyuzayat, Burma. The line passing through the scenic Three Pagodas Pass runs for 250 miles. This is now known as the Death Railway. I have been there twice, travelled on the train and spent hours viewing the manicured war cemeteries.
In 1983, I sat next to a lovely woman, Pat, on a plane. She was heading to London to see her daughter but I was getting off in Bangkok. During the conversation, I learned that her husband had died working on the famous Railway of Death, yet Pat had never been to Thailand or seen her husband's grave. In fact, she didn't even know if he had a grave, so I promised to visit the cemeteries, check for a grave and write to her.
What happened? Well, it took a lot of hours in the hot sun, but I found her husband's grave, took photographs of it and placed some magnificent flowers nearby. I also left a note for her husband from Pat and her daughter. That was my idea. Then, when I returned to Australia, I wrote to Pat and told her what I'd done and sent her the photographs. Weeks later I received a magnificent letter from her. Mm ... amazing who you meet on a plane, eh?
The railway line was meant to transport cargo daily to India, to back up their planned attack on India. The construction was done using POWs and Asian slave laborers in unfavorable conditions. The work started in October 1942 and was completed in a year. Due to the difficult terrain, thousands of laborers lost their lives. It is believed that one life was lost for each sleeper laid in the track.
In 1943 thousands of Allied Prisoners of War (PoW) and Asian labourers worked on the Death Railway under the imperial Japanese army in order to construct part of the 415 km long Burma -Thailand railway. Most of these men were Australians, Dutch and British and they had been working steadily southwards from Thanbyuzayat (Burma) to link with other PoW on the Thai side of the railway. This railway was intended to move men and supplies to the Burmese front where the Japanese were fighting the British. Japanese army engineers selected the route which traversed deep valleys and hills. All the heavy work was done manually either by hand or by elephant as earth moving equipment was not available.
At the nearby Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, around 7,000 POWs, who sacrificed their lives in the railway construction, are buried. Another 2,000 are laid to rest at the Chungkai Cemetery.
Allied Forces bombed the iron bridge in 1944 and three sections of Bridge River Kwai were destroyed. The present bridge has two of its central spans rebuilt and the original parts of the bridge are now displayed in the War Museum.
The Bridge River Kwai became famous all over the world, when it was featured in movies and books. The cliff-hugging tracks and the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains and valleys are well captured in the David Lean movie.
Bridge River Kwai is a tourist destination now. The track is developed into a walkway with side platforms. This allows crossing the railway bridge on foot. These platforms are useful as viewpoints and for avoiding trains. A small tourist train runs back and forth across the bridge.
Every year, River Kwai Bridge Festival is organized to mark the Allied bombing on November 28, 1944. A spectacular light and sound show is the highlight of the festival.
Kanchanaburi Town is located 128kms to the west of Bangkok. Regular buses ply the route from Southern Bus Terminal in Bangkok. Both air condition and non air condition buses are available throughout the day for the three hour journey. Train services from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi starts from Bangkok Noi Railway Station. Those with their own vehicles may use the newly constructed expressway from Pinklao. The updated timings for buses and trains are available at Tourism Authority of Thailand offices.
Special trains run from Bangkok for tourists during weekends. On Saturdays and Sundays, the train leaves Bangkok at 6.30am. It stops at Bridge River Kwai for 10 minutes. Tourists can use this time to sightsee and take photographs. The train further passes through the old POW camps. This train journey allows tourists to see the famous Bridge River Kwai and the historical places as well as enjoy the bewitching beauty of the rugged mountainous region.
Now, you might like to see some real footage of this extraordinary feat. Check out this video:
Loved ya work, Joe ... loved ya work!