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
Such a waste of beautiful life. What sacrifice of so many and for what? How well kept the cemetery looks. A tribute to the fallen. Another well presented blog Dan, thanks.
Go well, stay safe.
Very good article. I absolutely love this site. Thanks!
I was there during my R & R from VIetnam back in April of 1966. Spent a couple hours there talking with an elderly couple and my interpreter. The couple were taxidermists and had a wide variety of local birds and animals mounted, including a tiger that was for sale, $35.00 U.S. Their building was all thatched and had three walls, one side open to see the bridge and the river. Under more thatched material, and moored to the bank of the river was a Very Fancy and expensive motor boat with a lot of mahogany showing and a couple large outboard motors. It seemed quite incongruous being in that otherwise historic and tranquil scene. I was the only tourist they’d had that day, mostly why I hung out there longer than expected. Thanks for your photos and story. Best wishes for your future travels.
Thanks for reading and the comment Don, it’s a fascinating picture you’ve portrayed here. The town must have changed so much since ’66, clearly Thailand has. I would have loved to have seen it like you did. Who do you think owned the boat?
Went there on a visit ,and a cross had a name on it same as my own and also a gunner ,I served 22yrs but then another 8 guarding an artillary camp, It makes you think.
It certainly does William, that must have been a surreal experience for you