Scenes from Hell

Most visitors to Kanchanaburi will immediately head to the bridge immortalised in the film Bridge over the River Kwai.
And as just one monument to mark man’s inhumanity to man, it’s an impressive sight.
Then some (but not all) will do as I did and head for the war cemetery to read some of the heart rending personal inscriptions on the graves.
Just over 5000 Commonwealth and 1800 Dutch servicemen are buried here
They died of sickness, malnutrition, exhaustion and sheer bloody murder while working on the southern section of the Thai/Burma death railway in 1943.
Military cemeteries on this scale are always overwhelming, and those personal inscriptions to a father, son or brother hint at the devastating loss each and every family felt when that standardised, formal telegraph fell through the door.

But just 80 km north of here is a place of death that can chill you to the bone – despite the heat

It’s real name is Konyu Cutting

But the men who worked and died there gave it another name

They called it Hellfire Pass

A 600m long channel carved out of the jungle mountainside by men who were emaciated, diseased and, in many cases , dying.

They would work by firelight, the skeleton figures illuminated by the flames was reminiscent of a scene from Hell. The name stuck.
You can walk through Hellfire Pass and along a 3km stretch of the track which clings to the hillside

They give you an audio guide like no other guide you will ever hear.

As you walk down from the museum to the cutting you can take a path that the POWs would use every day
After just 10 minutes I was a panting,sweating wreck, swatting away those stripey Mosquitos that are known to carry Dengue Fever.

You can learn all about Dengue Fever from that audio tour. And Beri Beri, and yellow fever and the worst of them all – cholera
A disease that turned many a strong man into a shrunken, dessicated corpse within hours.

You know this because that audio guide includes many testimonies from Australians who were there. Drilling through the solid rock and carting it away in the monsoon season.
I’ve been caught in one of those monsoons and its no joke
All the time being beaten and abused by guards

Fifteen thousand POWs died building that railway but the plight of the Asian workers – known as Romusha – was even worse
Initially promised decent wages and conditions by the Japanese, they ended up as slaves – at least 90,000 of them died
Among with wives and children who came with them
And get this. Only two – yes two – were exhumed and given decent burials. The rest lay buried where they died

And that’s a thought to echo in your head as you trudge along Hellfire Pass.

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