The structure lay imposingly across the wide expanse of water. Black, ugly, metal. At the time we weren’t entirely sure what we were looking at, all we had was a name: ‘Death Railway.’
We knew it deserved respect though. The pictures Myrthe took reflect this- no cheer, no lightness, no imposing our own faces on a place we did not understand. All we felt was the chill that hung over the place, black clouds skies hanging sombrely above. We understood, this was not a bridge of joy.
And it wasn’t. Feeling ashamed of our lack of knowledge about the memorial bridge, we took to the internet upon our return. What we found confirmed our initial instinct about what we’d seen.
The Bridge on the River Kwai was part of the Death Railway, a railway that had been commissioned by the Japanese in the Second World War, which ensured supplies could be sent from the Empire’s capital to their newly acquired colony, Burma.
It is not what the trains carried that gave the line it’s dark nickname. That originated from its construction. More than 180,000 civilian laborious and 60,000 POW’s (Prisoners of War) were used during WWII.
Cruelty ruled over the railway. Workers were beaten (69 to death), humiliated, starved and worked to exhaustion. And if workers survived that, illness and dehydration were there to ensure even the strongest didn’t make it out. These horrific conditions ensured the death of around fifty percent of the Southeast Asian civilian labourers (a figure estimated at 90,000). Of the Prisoners of War, 6,904 British, 2,802 Australians, 2,782 Dutch and 133 Americans met their end in the construction of this railway. Their bodies lie in the Kanchanaburi cemetery, not far from our hostel. The thought made us sick to our stomach.
What’s worse, apart from the 111 (of 12,000 who were stationed at the railway) Japanese military officials that were tried for war crimes, Japan has never offered any compensation for those who perished at their hands building the railway.
So today’s post won’t go into what we’ve been up to these last few days. It is merely meant as a token of respect to the victims of this horrific tragedy.