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My Travel Story: Hellfire Pass, Kanchanaburi.
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    Hellfire Pass, Kanchanaburi.

    Hellfire Pass, Kanchanaburi.

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    Hellfire Pass Memorial

    The Hellfire Pass (Konyu) cutting is an example of the type of excavations of the 415km Burma-Thailand railway constructed in 1942-1943 by American, Australian, British and Dutch Prisoners of War and conscripted nationals from Burma, Malaya and Thailand.

    From Nong Pladuk the railway traversed the flat plain to Kanchanaburi where it crossed the Mae Khlaung river, then followed the course of the Kwae Noi river through Namtok (present terminus of the operative section), and Saiyok National Park, passing through three Pagoda Pass and over the foothills, and coastal plains of Burma to its junction with the existing Moulamein to Ye railway line at Thanbyuzayat.
    The railway was functional from October 1943 to June 1945 with occasional interruptions caused by bomb damage.

    Hellfire Pass and the adjacent cuttings were excavated by POW labour working in round-the-clock shifts over a desperate period of 12 weeks in 1943. The name Hellfire Pass relates to the awesome scene presented at night by the light from torches and lamps in the cutting.

    This work was done without the aid of reliable mechanical equipment. The most primitive of hand tools were used to drill holes for the explosives used in blasting the rock and for removing the waste rock.
    This section of the railway required the construction of many large embankments, trestle bridges, and deep cuttings as the route left the relatively flat high ground and traversed northward along the steep valley wall.

    One of the most famous trestle bridges was built in this area - Hintok or pack of cards Bridge - so named because it collapsed 3 times during construction. It was constructed in 3 weeks out of unseasoned timber fastened with wooden pegs, spikes, bamboo ties, and rattan rope.

    The Konyu cutting and other rock excavations and embankment in this area will serve as a memorial to the Thousands of lives so tragically sacrificed in the construction of the Burma-Thailand railway and to the Thai people who risked their lives to supply medicines and food to the prisoners during those dangerous times.

    Presented by the Australian-Thai Chamber of Commerce for the Australian Government
    April 26, 1987


    Hellfire Pass or Konyu Cutting as the Japanese had called it, is situated in the Tenasserim Hills about 80km Northwest of Kanchanaburi on Highway 323.

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    The first thing you will see once arriving at the car park and the starting point of the walk, the Memorial Museum.

    At the time, the museum opened at 9am and you can get a electronic guide (Walkman with headphones) from here, which is a wealth of information when walking the Pass.

    I have been let past the gate by security at 8am, just to do the walk in order to beat the heat.

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    Getting down to Hellfire Pass is the easy part...getting back up...

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    Khun Jonesee, at the start of Hellfire Pass.

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    IN MEMORY

    More than 60,000 Allied prisoners of war and approximately 200,000 Asian labourers were forced to work building the railway from Thanbyuzayat in Burma to Nong Pladuk in Thailand.

    Their experiences covered the range of human ordeal and endurance, from illness and starvation to slave labour, torture and execution. Up to 90,000 Asian labourers - Thais, Malays, Burmese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodians and other Asians – and approximately 12,800 Allied prisoners of war who worked on the railway died. They died from disease, starvation or brutality, the exact death toll is unknown. Those who made it home lived with the burden of their ordeal.

    The stories of building this railway reveal some of the darkest hours of war but through it all can be seen the courage, mateship and sacrifice of those who endured.

    Today, we all carry the obligation to remember those who suffered and those who died on the Burma-Thailand Railway and this memorial is dedicated to them all.

    It gave me a great understanding of men. And a great appreciation of the ordinary things of life…..And the value of human relations. You know, when it comes to the end, the only thing that really matters are the people whom you love and who love you.

    Dr Kevin Fagan who served in 1943 as a doctor on the Burma-Thailand Railway, as a prisoner of war of the Japanese.
    “ The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. ”
    - Chinese Proverb

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    Re: Hellfire Pass, Kanchanaburi.

    Thank you, fileeep, for posting this. This makes me realize that throughout the world possibly a large percentage of people living today have at least one family member who was in the area and involved in some way during WWII, connecting a quite large web of humanity. Imagine the stories which have been lost, and those we don't even know about.
    Last edited by Susana; 05-07-14 at 10:46 PM.

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    Re: Hellfire Pass, Kanchanaburi.

    Hi Susana,

    Yes, I agree, the stories of pain and suffering and inhumanity during WWWII must be many and I feel so lucky to be geographically placed at birth that I have not experienced this in my generation. I know the history of Hellfire pass and to visit here I realised I knew nothing.

    Hellfire Pass is a little out of the way, so you can find yourself in the cut all by yourself, no noise...nothing...and frightfully hot, it is very humbling. I have visited 5 times now, once for the dawn service on ANZAC day and every time I am lost for words after realising what humans can do to each other, the hatred. This is a must visit site (for me) but be warned, it is a very sad place.
    “ The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. ”
    - Chinese Proverb

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    Re: Hellfire Pass, Kanchanaburi.

    I sometimes feel in awe of the geographical placement of my birth, and the word 'why' floats in and out of my consciousness. I know that sounds a bit arrogant, so I'll temper it with, 'but we're courting disaster'. Nuff said on that subject, it being off topic and all.

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    Re: Hellfire Pass, Kanchanaburi.

    This section of the WW2 Japanese rail supply line was by far the most demanding section to complete. When I visited, I just could not believe what I was seeing, it must have been a nightmare. POW's, forced to work 18 hours a day by the Japanese in the Thailand heat. It has been reported that the Japanese beat to death 69 prisoners of war during the 6 weeks that it took to dig through the solid rock just in this section.

    Countless others died in the torturous conditions from, exhaustion, cholera, starvation or dysentery.

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    A little way in and looking back to the start of the cut.

    This is from an information board along the trail

    Little machinery was available. Most of the drilling work was done by the 'hammer and tap' men, a process whereby one man would hold and rotate a drill or 'tap' while his mate hit the head of the drill with an eight to ten pound hammer. When the hole was deep enough, explosive charges would be used, the broken rock removed by hand and the process began again. The process was slow.

    As work fell behind schedule, and 'speedo' was called, the work rate intensified. Work shifts lasting up to 18 hours drilled, blasted and removing rock in a continuous operation.

    At night, the cutting was lit by fires, lamps or diesel torches. The eerie light and shadows of the guards and gaunt prisoners of war playing on the rock walls suggested the name the site was given........Hell Fire Pass.


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    A little further in and on your right, you come to this broken drill bit. I pity the poor fellow who had to go and ask the Japanese guard for another one.

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    Just over halfway, and again, looking back to the start of the cut.

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    This is the end of Hellfire Pass. The steps you can see on the left will take you back to the car park, these steps just go straight up and seem to never stop, this is a huge effort, better to walk back though the cutting and use the other ones.

    Taking the steps on the right, will lead you to this view below.

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    As you can see, this was a massive undertaking....

    If you have your own transport, Hell Fire Pass is very easy to find as it is very well sign posted. Every Hotel and Guest House can arrange a minivan to the site, or, if you are feeling adventurous, you could always take the local bus, leaving from the main bus station in the center of town.

    Try and get there early to beat the heat. Walking from the car park down to Hell Fire Pass and back in the Thailand heat, can be a bit of an effort.
    Last edited by Marie; 27-07-14 at 10:24 AM. Reason: spelling error, requested by Poster
    “ The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. ”
    - Chinese Proverb

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    Re: Hellfire Pass, Kanchanaburi.

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    Just before the old exit stairs, at the end of the cut, you will see this plaque in memory of Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop....

    ....it reads:

    IN MEMORY OF

    SIR EDWARD 'WEARY' DUNLOP

    AC, CMG, OBE, KStJ, MS, FRCS, FRACS, FACS, DSc. 1907 - 1993 PATRON OF THE ASSOCIATION AND SURGEON OF THE JUNGLE WHOSE ASHES WERE SCATTERED IN THIS AREA ON APRIL 25TH, 1994.

    FROM 1942 TO 1945 WEARY DUNLOP AND HIS MEDICAL COLLEAGUES, IN THE ARMED SERVICES OF GREAT BRITIAN, AUSTRALIA, NETHERLANDS, INDIA AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA GAVE DEVOTED SERVICE TO THOUSANDS OF SICK AND DYING PRISONERS-OF-WAR AND ASIAN LABOURERS WHO WERE FORCED TO CONSTRUCT AND MAINTAIN THE BURMA-THAILAND RAILWAY.

    THESE DOCTORS PROVIDED LEADERSHIP, HELPED ALLEVIATE PAIN AND SUFFERING AND ABOVE ALL GAVE REASON TO LIVE WHEN ALL REAL HOPE SEEMED LOST.

    TO THEM ALL WE GIVE THANKS.

    "WHEN YOU GO HOME, TELL THEM OF US AND SAY WE GAVE OUR TOMORROW FOR YOUR TODAY"



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    About 10m from the end of the cut is this remembrance plaque, ending the Hell Fire Pass walk.

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    At the time of this visit, these seats were constructed by the Australian Armed Forces for the ANZAC Day dawn service, held here every year on the 25th April. You have to leave Kanchanaburi at 3am in order to arrive early enough to get a good seat. I went to this dawn service and it was very moving. In a rush to get going, I remembered my camera but forgot my CF card...

    After the Service, you slowly walk back up to the car park, where coffee, with a splash of Australian Bundaberg Rum and ANZAC biscuits are served.
    “ The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. ”
    - Chinese Proverb

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    Re: Hellfire Pass, Kanchanaburi.

    Some of the very limited medical supplies were in some POW camps provided by the Thai resistance. One example

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    Re: Hellfire Pass, Kanchanaburi.

    Thanks Khun Don for this link http://hellfire-pass.commemoration.g...ment/thais.php very informative and I have sent this on to a few friends who are very interested in the history of the Thai-Burma railway.

    I have no photos of the inside of the war museum but I like to visit there after I have completed the Hell Fire Pass walk, it is air conditioned, and as you are a little more than warm after climbing the stairs out of the cut, it is a perfect place to cool off.

    There is so much information on the Thai-Burma Railway in there and so much to see, there is also a short movie to watch, you can easily spend well over an hour exploring everything on display.

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    Out the back of the Museum there is a small balcony with great views of the Kwai Noi Valley and art work by Peter Rushforth on display, called 'The Peace Vessel' .

    Peter Rushforth was a prisoner of war on the Burma Thailand Railway. In 1946 he commenced training as a potter at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. His work is represented in the Australian National Gallery and Australian state and regional galleries as well as private collections all over the world.


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    After the Dawn Service at Hell Fire Pass, there is a mid-morning service held here, at the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, at 10:30am.

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    The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery was once the prisoner of war camp 'Chong Kai'. 1,740 POW's rest in peace here now.
    “ The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. ”
    - Chinese Proverb

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    Re: Hellfire Pass, Kanchanaburi.

    I have been to Kanchanaburi four times, but always on hurried visits (mostly package tours) and never really had a good opportunity to savor its rich historical worthiness depicted on this thread. I think next time I will linger longer. Top on my must-see list will be the art work by Peter Rushforth on display, called 'The Peace Vessel'; movie at the war museum; and the house of Nai Boonpong Sirivejabhandu at 96 Pak Prak Road. Well, will find other interesting things to see-and will wear my most comfortable hiking shoes. LOL

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    Re: Hellfire Pass, Kanchanaburi.

    Comfortable shoes are a must Marie, the track through Hell Fire Pass is flat but it is covered in a course crushed rock and you end up walking on a lot of the edges of these rocks, some will even move under foot, wearing thongs (flip flops) or sandals would be very hard and painful on your feet, mainly because of the their light weight thin sole design but a good quality pair of sport shoes would be fine.

    The movie shown in the museum is a real jaw dropper. No matter how many times I see it, I still cant believe just how cruel the Japanese were to the POW's and Asian workers....absolutely barbaric.

    Next time in Kanchanaburi, I too will want to seek out the house occupied by Boonpong Sirivejabhandu during World War II, at 96 Pak Prak Road, it will be very interesting to see, especially after reading the link Khun Don provided. http://hellfire-pass.commemoration.g...ment/thais.php

    It is good to linger longer........and don't leave out a kayak down the river Kwai on your list of things to do in Kanchanaburi....
    “ The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. ”
    - Chinese Proverb

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