We were up early to pack our things because we are going to take a short trip out to March over The Bridge on the River Kwai. The movie by the same name won best picture in 1957.
We went down to breakfast and Rob spilled yogurt on his shirt. I helped him clean it off as there were multiple spots. Sadly, I had peanut butter on my napkin so it went from messy to messier!! This is when helping hurts. Thanks a lot, Gilligan!
Speaking of Gilligan, our guide for today is Mod. He lived in Maryland for five years and credits Gilligan’s Island for helping him learn to speak English.
Today we travel to see the place where the famous death railway through Thailand was built by Australian, British, Dutch, and American prisoners of war in WWII.
In addition to the POW’s were kidnapped slave labor from Japanese-occupied territories. These people had worse conditions and were not organized like the military with doctors.
This 220-mile railway was built to transport supplies for the Japanese Imperial Army from the Gulf of Siam to India.
Pierre Boulle was a French spy in Vietnam, and when captured he was sent to Singapore. He learned about this railway from survivors and wrote a historical fiction entitled The Bridge Over the River Kwai. (He also wrote The Planet of the Apes.)
The workers had to cut through mountainous rocks with hand tools. The most difficult stretch was called Hellfire Pass.
It took 17 months to build and was only used during the war for 21 months. Some parts are still in use. We rode on the train.
The Australian POW’s from the Singapore surrender arrived on April 25, ANZAC Day. A memorial service is held here on that day. Many are buried in this cemetery. They were so young. They were someone’s son, brother, father.
Here is where many Asian workers were cremated.
Americans were taken to Arlington, Virginia, for burial.
The workers built 680 wooden bridges and 8 steel bridges. The Japanese were under pressure to get this railway up and running so they started to work 24 hours per day. They called it Speedo.
Work continued around the clock with bamboo fires and torches. These lights together with shadows and darkness with deplorable conditions and emaciated workers gave it the reputation of Dante’s hell. Many people died there.
They were to work at hard labor, walk to and from the location and be fed very little. Here is a photo showing the work done and the food given.
I think one of the hardest jobs had to be the medical team. They had to decide who was fit to work each morning, and no one was. Also, there was malaria, cholera, beri beri, pellegra, skin ulcers, etc. They did not have many supplies, and amputations were common.
Soon after arrival, their clothes became worn and even rotted. The men were given “Jap happies” which were a loincloth or G-string.
They would entertain each other with songs and poems. The Man from Snowy River was a sentimental favorite that bought on memories of home. There was always talk of being home for Christmas.
We rode on the train. I wore a mask as the windows were open. I discovered that I had really bad breath.
Here is the original engine that pulled the train.
We arrived at the steel bridge where there are many people wandering along the tracks. Little platforms exist for them to move off to the side when the train comes.
We will get our chance to walk across this bridge tomorrow.
One prisoner remarked how beautiful the teak forests of Thailand were, and he would like to return someday when he was a free man to enjoy the lovely landscape. He did just that in 1987, and the teak forest was all gone.
There were those who did the hammer and tap, then dynamite, followed by the rock rollers. One can see from this picture how the rock was removed from the mountain.
The POW’s had nicknames for the Japanese guards such as Liver Lips, Dillinger, and Stalin.
Prisoners detailed their activities and the whereabouts of the dead. They buried these records because if found out, they would be killed. After the war, the Australians found all but 52 of their fallen.
Australians will credit their survival to having a mate. No Australian ever died unattended. Your mate would hold your hand when death was near.
When survivors meet, a glance is all
that is needed to understand. They don’t talk about it to anyone because they won’t believe it.
MATES by Duncan Butler
I’ve travelled down some lonely roads
Both crooked tracks and straight
An’ I’ve learned life’s noblest creed
Summed up in one word, “Mate”
I’m thinking back across the years,
(A thing I do of late)
An’ this word sticks between my ears
You’ve got to have a mate.
Someone who’ll take you as you are
Regardless of your state
An’ Stand as firm as Ayers Rock
Because ‘e is your mate.
Me mind goes back to 43,
To slavery and ‘ate,
When man’s one chance to stay alive
Depended on ‘is mate.
With bamboo for a billie-can
An’ bamboo for a plate,
A bamboo paradise for bugs,
Was bed for me and me mate.
You’d slip and slither through the mud
An’ curse your rotten fate
But then you’d hear a quiet word:
“Don’t drop your bundle mate.”
An’ though it’s all so long ago
This truth I ‘ave to state:
A man don’t know what lonely means,
Til ‘e has lost his mate.
And so to all who ask us why
We keep these special dates
Like Anzac Day, I answer: “Why?”
“We’re thinking of our mates.”
An’ when I’ve left the drivers seat
An handed in my plates,
I’ll tell old Peter at the door:
“I’ve come to join me MATES.”
Tonight we stayed at the Good Times Resort in Kanchanaburi. Since most people are on holiday, it is unusually crowded. We went to eat dinner at the resort and the only seats left were hay bales? We felt like we were at a hay ride.
And then a whole crowd came over near our table by the water and started shooting off fireworks. We left as fire and straw are not a good mix.
Once back in our room, there was a lot of loud live music like La Bamba, Take It Easy, Cocaine, and Eight Days a Week. I wasn’t sure when the revelry would end but Rob reminded me that it was the Good Times Resort so this is what you get!! True.