THE HELLFIRE PASS MEMORIAL
The Hellfire Pass Memorial is dedicated to those Australian and other allied prisoners of war (POWs) and Asian labourers who suffered and died at Hellfire Pass and elsewhere in the Asia Pacific region during the Second World War.
At Hellfire Pass there is a museum and 4.5 km. walking trail. Wear strong shoes, a hat and carry water if you intend walking along the trail.
Of the 60,000 Allied POWs who worked on the railway, 12,399 (20%) died. Between 70,000 and 90,000 civilian labourers are also believed to have died. The reasons for this appalling death toll were lack of proper food, totally inadequate medical facilities and, at times, the brutal treatment from guards and railway supervisors.
Rice, with a little dried vegetable and dried fish, was the POWs' basis food. This meagre diet provided by the Japanese was supplemented to some extent through trade with local people. Starvation led to a range of diseases, including beriberi and pellagra. Weakened POWs living in a appalling conditions, commonly fell ill to Malaria, Dysentery, Cholera and Tropical Ulcers. POWs lived in attap (woven plam thatch) and bamboo huts. Huts were overcrowded and the cooking and sanitary arrangements at camps were primitive. Lack of clothing and footwear increased the risk of illness.
Physical punishment was a feature of Japanese military discipline and the POWs were often given severe beatings as well as other forms of punishment. This was at its worst during the "Speedo" If anything the Asian labourers, or "Roomette" as they were known, fared even worse. Unlike the POWs, they had no Army doctors to give them basic medical treatment.
Thailand was a reluctant ally of Japan and allied-interned citizens were well treated by the Thais. Internees became aware of the POWs' plight. An internees group known as the "V" Organisation aided smuggled food and medicines to POWs.
Peace and after
After the completion of the railway the POWs were either kept in Thailand or sent back to Singapore. When the war ended the POW survivors were repatriated and with proper food and medical treatment many quick recovered. However, most carried the mental scars of their experience with them for the rest of their lives.
The POWs who died along the railway were reinterred at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemeteries at Thanbyuzayat, Kanchanaburi and Chung Kai. American dead were returned to the United States of America.