A tear formed in my eye as I read the grave’s inscription. She’d written to him: “In silence I think of you, not just today but every day.” What a terrible waste, I thought to myself.
I’d been trying to read every grave in the cemetery, but it was getting too much — both emotionally and physically. The graves stretched in front of me, countless rows of black stone, baking under the merciless Thai sun.
I was in Kanchanaburi, a small town in Western Thailand. It’s home to the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, the resting place of almost 7,000 prisoners who died building the Thai-Burma railway, better described as the Death Railway.
The Death Railway was constructed for Japan during World War Two. Its purpose was to link Thailand and Burma, to support Japan’s war in India. 180,000 slave labourers and 60,000 Allied prisoners of war were forced to build the railway. More than 100,000 perished in the brutal tropical conditions, dying from beatings, sickness and starvation.
It was therefore emotional reading the graves’ names, many of men who were younger than me. They’d been treated like cattle and died building a cruel railway in a strange part of the world. It was even sadder after visiting the troubling Yasukuni Shrine only a few weeks earlier.
Kanchanaburi is also home to the famous Bridge on the River Kwai. Immortalised in book and cinema, there was no bridge over the Kwai River during the war. The bridge in the film existed, but it actually crossed a river called the Mae Klong. The river was renamed after the movie’s release, making reality true to fiction.
After the somber Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, it was nice visiting the bridge. The sun was setting, and annoying tourists were running around with selfie sticks. But I wasn’t bothered. I walked onto the tracks, noting the safety warning to beware of trains. The iron bridge was smaller than I expected, its appearance altered by repairs after the countless bombings it faced during the war.
Down below the river flowed, brown waters which had witnessed countless savage deeds. I heard excited squealing and felt the bridge vibrate. This was the cue. I climbed the barrier and watched the diesel train rumble past. It carried not soldiers or guns but smiling passengers; small children waved out the windows as their mothers held them.
I breathed in the tropical air and watched the train as it left the bridge and continued down the Death Railway towards Burma. Tomorrow, I would make the same journey.
Have you visited Kanchanaburi War Cemetery or the Bridge on the River Kwai? Tell me your thoughts by leaving a comment below