Thailand commemorations

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A guide to the commemorations of the world wars in Thailand.

Transcript of Thailand commemorations

  • In Thailand - and Burma

    (Myanmar) - it is possible to visit

    the graves and memorials

    commemorating the lives of

    10,000 British, Dutch, Australian

    and New Zealander soldiers held

    prisoner by the Japanese during

    the Second World War.


    Many of the soldiers died from

    sickness, malnutrition and exhaustion

    in the process of building the

    notorious Thai-Burma railway; it has

    been calculated that one man died

    for every single sleeper that was laid.

    The Commonwealth War Graves Commission isresponsible for marking and maintaining the gravesof members of the forces of Commonwealthcountries who died in the two world wars, forbuilding and maintaining memorials to the deadwhose graves are unknown and for providingrecords and registers of these burials andcommemorations, totalling 1.7 million and foundin most countries throughout the world.

    Commonwealth War Graves Commission2 Marlow Road MaidenheadBerkshireSL6 7DXUnited KingdomTel: +44 (0) 1628 634221Fax: +44 (0) 1628 771643E-mail: [email protected]

    A guide to Thailands W

    orld War cem


    Japans decision to build the railway was

    provoked by the need to improve

    communications to maintain the large Japanese

    army in Burma. They utilised a labour force

    comprised of prisoners of war taken in the

    campaigns in South-East Asia and the Pacific,

    along with forced labour brought from Malaya

    (Malaysia/Singapore) and the Dutch East Indies

    (Indonesia) or conscripted in Thailand and


    The first of those to arrive were tasked with

    constructing their own prisoner of war camps

    at Kanchanaburi and Ban Pong in Thailand and

    Thanbyuzayat in Burma. It is at these sites that

    you can now visit the cemeteries where the

    men who died building the railway were

    ultimately buried.


  • Throughout the building of therailway, food supplies were irregularand totally inadequate. Red Crossparcels helped, but these wereinvariably held up by the Japanese.Malaria, dysentery and pellagra (avitamin deficiency disease) attackedthe prisoners, and the number ofsick in the camps was always high.

    Work on the railway started atThanbyuzayat on 1 October 1942and somewhat later at Ban Pong. Thetwo parties met at Konkuita inOctober 1943, and the line - 424kilometres long - was completed byDecember. Thereafter, work on therailway consisted of maintenanceand repairs to damage caused byAllied bombing.

    The graves of those who died duringthe construction and maintenance ofthe Thai-Burma railway (exceptAmericans, who were repatriated)have been transferred from thecamp burial grounds and solitarysites along the railway into threewar cemeteries. Those recoveredfrom the southern part of the linenow rest in Chungkai War Cemeteryand Kanchanaburi War Cemetery inThailand. Those from the northernhalf of the line lie in the WarCemetery at Thanbyuzayat in Burma.

    Kanchanaburi War Cemetery

    In close proximity to the River Kwai (picturedbelow, left) this cemetery is only a shortdistance from the site of the former Kanburiprisoner of war base camp. Most of theprisoners passed through this camp and itrepresents the largest of the three warcemeteries on the Burma-Thailand railway.

    A two hour drive from Bangkok, the cemetery isbest reached by road along the national highwaywhich runs north from the capital. Bus and trainservices, along the so-called Death Railway, alsorun from Bangkok.

    With most of the base camps and hospitalssituated in this area, there are nearly 7,000burials here at Kanchanaburi. All the graves aremarked by bronze plaques mounted on concretepedestals. In the entrance building is a bronzememorial tablet recording the names of 11soldiers of the army of undivided India, buried inMuslim civil cemeteries in Thailand, whose gravesare unmaintainable.

    A register of the graves is available on site, as isthe case at Chungkai and Thanbyuzayat.

    Chungkai War Cemetery

    There are over 1,700 burials at this cemetery,located 200 metres from the bank of the RiverKwai and just 5 kilometres south ofKanchanaburi. Another of the base camps on theThai-Burma-Siam railway, Chungkai contained ahospital and church built by Allied prisoners ofwar. The prisoners themselves built ChungkaiWar Cemetery. Those who rest here are mostlymen who died in the hospital.

    The entrance pavilion is built of local materials,roofed by tiles in traditional Thai colours. A long central avenue runs from the altar-likeStone of Remembrance, just inside thecemetery, to the Cross of Sacrifice. The wordsTheir name liveth for evermore, taken fromthe Book of Ecclesiasticus, are carved on theStone.

    The Cross, like the Stone of Remembrance, iscommon to most Commonwealth warcemeteries. It is set upon an octagonal baseand bears a bronze sword upon its shaft.

    Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery (Burma)

    With Burma opening up, accessing thiscemetery has become more straightforward.

    It was built by Japanese prisoner of war labourto transport supplies and troops throughThailand to their army in Burma.

    T H E I R N A M E L I V E T H F O R E V E R M O R E