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River Kwai Museum tells WWII story
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    River Kwai Museum tells WWII story

    Thailand: River Kwai museum tells WWII story
    CNN.com, Sunday, July 13, 2003

    KANCHANABURI, Thailand (AP) -- Rod Beattie sweeps a metal detector over a watermelon field along the River Kwai where six decades ago 2,000 Allied prisoners of war perished. The detector buzzes, and the wiry Australian anxiously claws the earth with his bare hands.

    "This is just brilliant," he says, breaking up a clod of soil to reveal a brass badge, a neat likeness of a propeller airplane perhaps crafted by a captured airman longing for the free, blue skies.

    Sweating under the tropical sun, the 54-year-old Australian places the find alongside razors, toothbrushes and belt buckles, surmising these may have been items cremated with prisoners who succumbed to cholera and other diseases at the Chungkai hospital camp.

    The fruit of this morning's excavation is headed for a bulging repository of artifacts from the Death Railway, which spelled the deaths of some 100,000 Allied POWs and Asian slave laborers forced to build a line between Thailand and Myanmar for the Japanese army during World War II.

    And the best of these items, Beattie explains, may find their way into displays of the Thailand-Burma Railway Center, a world-class museum recently opened after four years of painstaking effort by Beattie and several colleagues passionate about telling the story minus the myths and misinformation.

    Until then, Kanchanaburi was poorly served by two small, rather shabby museums and Thai tourist guides who often pass on meager, or outright, fictitious stories. This despite an industry built around the railway, bridge and river which have attracted millions of tourists and piles of cash since Hollywood released its classic film "The Bridge on the River Kwai" in 1957.

    Beattie says he strived for an unbiased presentation through information panels, photographs, artifacts, video clips and an interactive, detailed topographical map of the 258-mile railway, its stations and POW camps. The collection includes rare Japanese photographs provided by Ranichi Sugano, believed to be the last surviving senior engineer from the railway.

    The museum doesn't stint on displays of Japanese cruelty, depicting POWs turned into walking skeletons while hacking through disease-ridden jungles under their captors' guns. But neither does it portray all Japanese soldiers as brutes nor their railway engineers as blustering incompetents.

    'This place will never be finished'

    Conditions varied from camp to camp, Japanese soldiers were also subjected to harsh punishment from their officers and some POWs developed decent relations with their guards. Beattie points out that a third of the 10,000 Japanese prisoners under British control in post-war Singapore perished, whereas less than 23 percent of British POWs on the railway died.

    The museum has drawn praise from both Japanese visitors and former POWs ("Bloody brilliant," wrote John Reid, of Brisbane, Australia, in the guest book). And even those far too young to remember the war are moved by the displays and a view from the museum's second floor: 6,982 crosses of the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.

    "This place will never be finished. It's organic. As I find and discover more things we'll have more to explain and exhibit," says Beattie, a civil engineer from Gympie, Queensland, who became deeply involved with this slice of history in 1994 when he was consulting for a sapphire mining company in Kanchanaburi.

    He was later appointed caretaker of the area's two cemeteries by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. A third POW burial ground is located in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

    Before the advent of the museum, which opened in January, Beattie had logged some 1,240 miles on foot mapping the railway, clearing sections of the invading jungle and collecting artifacts.

    He also scoured archives around the world to build up a database, now containing more than 12,600 names of Australian, British, American and Dutch POWs who died working on the railway or in captivity elsewhere. Relatives seeking information about deceased POWs are welcome to search the still-expanding data and a substantial library on the railway.

    Unfortunately, Beattie and his colleagues couldn't have picked a worse time to open the center. The Iraq War and especially the SARS outbreak have devastated Thailand's tourism industry and visitors to the center average 35 a day. Break-even point is 170 people paying the $1.45 entrance fee.

    Beattie, who funded a large chunk of the museum's costs from his own pocket, says he's prepared to borrow against his successful gem-cutting business to keep it going.

    "We can't close down," he says.

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    Last time I was in Thailand I did not have time to go the Bridge over The River Kwai althought I wanted to go there to see it. But next time I will go to Thailand I will go see this museum as it is considered an important part of Australia's history. I'm happy they put a different prespective on the situration in WWII, and not from just the Austrlian prespective I here in Australia. I also suggest that people who can afford it and attend the Rive Kwai museun, give a donation to this museum as this will help it survive and improve in the future.
    I my self will be giving a donation when I attend.

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    Kanjanaburi is well worth a visit. During the winter months I usually go there every second weekend for my work. It's not only the death railway and places related to it, but also the beauty of it's waterfalls, rivers and national parks which attracts many visitors. It's reached easily from Bangkok (120 km), with buses leaving the southern bus station every 40 minutes or so. If you have time, spend a couple of nights there, it's well worth it.

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    Re: River Kwai Museum tells WWII story

    Quote Originally Posted by Sawatdee View Post
    Thailand: River Kwai museum tells WWII story
    CNN.com, Sunday, July 13, 2003

    KANCHANABURI, Thailand (AP) -- Rod Beattie sweeps a metal detector over a watermelon field along the River Kwai where six decades ago 2,000 Allied prisoners of war perished. The detector buzzes, and the wiry Australian anxiously claws the earth with his bare hands.

    "This is just brilliant," he says, breaking up a clod of soil to reveal a brass badge, a neat likeness of a propeller airplane perhaps crafted by a captured airman longing for the free, blue skies.

    Sweating under the tropical sun, the 54-year-old Australian places the find alongside razors, toothbrushes and belt buckles, surmising these may have been items cremated with prisoners who succumbed to cholera and other diseases at the Chungkai hospital camp.

    The fruit of this morning's excavation is headed for a bulging repository of artifacts from the Death Railway, which spelled the deaths of some 100,000 Allied POWs and Asian slave laborers forced to build a line between Thailand and Myanmar for the Japanese army during World War II.

    And the best of these items, Beattie explains, may find their way into displays of the Thailand-Burma Railway Center, a world-class museum recently opened after four years of painstaking effort by Beattie and several colleagues passionate about telling the story minus the myths and misinformation.

    Until then, Kanchanaburi was poorly served by two small, rather shabby museums and Thai tourist guides who often pass on meager, or outright, fictitious stories. This despite an industry built around the railway, bridge and river which have attracted millions of tourists and piles of cash since Hollywood released its classic film "The Bridge on the River Kwai" in 1957.

    Beattie says he strived for an unbiased presentation through information panels, photographs, artifacts, video clips and an interactive, detailed topographical map of the 258-mile railway, its stations and POW camps. The collection includes rare Japanese photographs provided by Ranichi Sugano, believed to be the last surviving senior engineer from the railway.

    The museum doesn't stint on displays of Japanese cruelty, depicting POWs turned into walking skeletons while hacking through disease-ridden jungles under their captors' guns. But neither does it portray all Japanese soldiers as brutes nor their railway engineers as blustering incompetents.

    'This place will never be finished'

    Conditions varied from camp to camp, Japanese soldiers were also subjected to harsh punishment from their officers and some POWs developed decent relations with their guards. Beattie points out that a third of the 10,000 Japanese prisoners under British control in post-war Singapore perished, whereas less than 23 percent of British POWs on the railway died.

    The museum has drawn praise from both Japanese visitors and former POWs ("Bloody brilliant," wrote John Reid, of Brisbane, Australia, in the guest book). And even those far too young to remember the war are moved by the displays and a view from the museum's second floor: 6,982 crosses of the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.

    "This place will never be finished. It's organic. As I find and discover more things we'll have more to explain and exhibit," says Beattie, a civil engineer from Gympie, Queensland, who became deeply involved with this slice of history in 1994 when he was consulting for a sapphire mining company in Kanchanaburi.

    He was later appointed caretaker of the area's two cemeteries by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. A third POW burial ground is located in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

    Before the advent of the museum, which opened in January, Beattie had logged some 1,240 miles on foot mapping the railway, clearing sections of the invading jungle and collecting artifacts.

    He also scoured archives around the world to build up a database, now containing more than 12,600 names of Australian, British, American and Dutch POWs who died working on the railway or in captivity elsewhere. Relatives seeking information about deceased POWs are welcome to search the still-expanding data and a substantial library on the railway.

    Unfortunately, Beattie and his colleagues couldn't have picked a worse time to open the center. The Iraq War and especially the SARS outbreak have devastated Thailand's tourism industry and visitors to the center average 35 a day. Break-even point is 170 people paying the $1.45 entrance fee.

    Beattie, who funded a large chunk of the museum's costs from his own pocket, says he's prepared to borrow against his successful gem-cutting business to keep it going.

    "We can't close down," he says.

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    Re: River Kwai Museum tells WWII story

    you might be able to tell me the TRUE facts about the location of the actual bridge the POWs built. is it the metal one at Kanchanaburi or is this just a tourist con. you hear so many conflicting stories, surely the truth can not be that hard to find. I will be there in early July this year.

    Thanks Bob

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    Re: River Kwai Museum tells WWII story

    Quote Originally Posted by rjjj View Post
    you might be able to tell me the TRUE facts about the location of the actual bridge the POWs built. is it the metal one at Kanchanaburi or is this just a tourist con. you hear so many conflicting stories, surely the truth can not be that hard to find. I will be there in early July this year.

    Thanks Bob
    Yes that is the actual bridge. The rounded spans at either side are the originals and the angular ones in the middle are replacements for the damage caused when the bridge was blown up.

    David
    My new travel blog: https://www.weekender.blog/

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    Re: River Kwai Museum tells WWII story

    I wrote an article about this at thai-blogs.com - check out the pictures of now and then and you can see it was the same bridge. There was also an earlier wooden bridge alongside.

    For holiday ideas, you might also want to check out A Trip to Kanchanaburi.

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    Re: River Kwai Museum tells WWII story

    Katchanaburi is one of my favorite places in Thailand - the accommodation is cheap and good quality and some of the guest houses offer amazing food as well - it costs a few baht more but the small guesthouses by the river are fantastic places to stay and close to everything.

    The tiger temple may be a touristy thing to do but nonetheless there are not many places where you can be up close and personal with these beautiful beasts and it seems nicer than a zoo.

    Highlight of my last trip was Kayaking on the river where you get a better feel of the original jungle and lovely new aspect of the bridge - at 61 I had never been kayaking before - so if I can do it anyone can!

    Also I remember reading somewhere that the bridge was not actually over the River Kwai but one of its tributaries but that after the film came out the ever enterprising Thai's renamed the rivers to match the story!

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    Re: River Kwai Museum tells WWII story

    Quote Originally Posted by gbswales View Post
    Also I remember reading somewhere that the bridge was not actually over the River Kwai but one of its tributaries but that after the film came out the ever enterprising Thai's renamed the rivers to match the story!
    The river is called "Kwae" as in "square" but the book/movie mispronounced it as "kwai" which means buffalo in Thai. Thais still call the main river "kwae".

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    Re: River Kwai Museum tells WWII story

    Quote Originally Posted by gbswales View Post
    Also I remember reading somewhere that the bridge was not actually over the River Kwai but one of its tributaries but that after the film came out the ever enterprising Thai's renamed the rivers to match the story!
    Yes, the original river Kwae is the one which the railway follows after the bridge all the way till the Three Pagodas Pass. However as this is the smaller of the two rivers which join at Kanchanaburi, the larger one retained its name, so the bridge was actually over the Mae Klong river. In the 1960s the upper part of the Mae Klong from the confluence with the Kwae was renamed to Kwae Yai (and the smaller one to Kwae Noi). I have no source for that yet, but I read it somewhere on the web and placed it into the Wikipedia article on the river, so maybe that was where you read it.

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