Kanchanaburi – Thanbyuzayat

In a previous post, ‘I wonder what happened to them all’, I mentioned the action of the 2/30th Battalion at Gemas, Malaya 1942 – and the fate of those sent to work on the Thai-Burma Railway in F Force.

Some 161 2/30th Battalion men are buried at Thanbyuzayat in Burma, and 100 are buried at Kanchanaburi in Thailand. (There are 125 more at Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore, including 82 on the Singapore Memorial within the cemetery, who were mostly died in the fighting in Malaya or Singapore.)

Unknown Australian - Thanbyuzayat

Unknown Australian – Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery,Burma

The 2/30th  Battalion and 2/10th Field Ambulance men were among the 22,376 Australians made prisoners of war by the Japanese – of whom 8,031 died while in captivity. Some 9,500 Australian prisoners of war worked on the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway and 2,646 of them died of illness, disease, starvation, overwork and savage punishment — including 1,438 men of F Force in Thailand and 479 men of A Force in Burma.

In 1997, I travelled by train from Singapore to Kanchanaburi, and then to Burma for my book Not Going to Vietnam (Sceptre 1999) tracing as much as I could of both ends of the railway, and came across men of the 2/30th Battalion and 2/10th Field Ambulance while looking at the cemeteries and memorials.

Back then the Australian Hellfire Pass museum and walking track was being constructed.  Rod Beattie, who I met for the first time in Kanchanaburi, was managing the project. Rod had cleared several kilometres of the track around Hellfire Pass himself, and came to know more about the railway than anyone else.

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Since then Rod has established the Thailand Burma Railway Centre http://www.tbrconline.com/  the most accessible, accurate and authoritative museum in Kanchanaburi, opposite the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. Rod  manages tis and the nearby Chungkai War Cemetery on behalf of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  He has assisted many veterans and families in finding their stories, and has been a big help to me.

Sunset Kan'buri cemetery Rod 2008

Sunset, Kanchanaburi Cemetery (Photo: Rod Beattie 2008)

The TBRC is easily accessible from Bangkok by train or car –  the day tours mostly just call into the Kanchanaburi cemetery for a few minutes, and perhaps visit one of the other museums who provide kickbacks to the tour operators. It is much more satisfying to do it yourself.

The Hellfire Pass Memorial and museum has also opened and is also well worth a visit – 80 km from Kanchanaburi. You can organise this from Bangkok or Kanchanaburi. http://www.dva.gov.au/commems_oawg/

Download Death Railway Detective the story of my 1997  education from Rod on the railway. (From Not Going to Vietnam 1999, Chapter 6)

Much has also changed in Burma or Myanmar.

In 1997 I had an extraordinary time, in Rangoon/Yangon, Mandalay and down the Irrawaddy to Bagan.  Most memorable was the train south to Moatama/Moke Ta Ma getting across the Salween River to Moulmein/Mawlamyine and then finally to the beginning of the railway at Thanbyuzayat.

In Moulmein I stayed in a windowless ‘cell’ at the Breeze Guest House – back then the only place I could find after the terrifying train ride from Rangoon to Moatama and an equally scary trip across the Salween river. The Breeze is still there, and still the same, but there are now actual hotels (with windows) and a road and rail bridge across the Salweeen.

Read The train to Thanbyuzayat  (From Not Going to Vietnam 1999, Chapter 7)

A report early 2013 has the Burmese government, jealous of the tourist revenue enjoyed by Kanchanaburi, wanting to revive the railway, all the way to Thailand. The original route is under water around Sangkhlaburi Thailand so that is unlikely to happen. And the monuments – the strange cement statues I saw in 1997 are now smashed.

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At Thanbyuzayat I photographed a number of graves, mainly for the inscriptions. 1997 was still in the days of film, where on a long trip you had to budget the number of rolls you could use.

But also the inscriptions  – it seemed to me at the time that there was a greater emphasis freedom and peace and family than on the First World War inscriptions – God, country, King.

I recorded nine Australian inscriptions at Thanbyuzayat – as it happened a number of them were men from 2/30 Battalion who were sent to work on the railway in F Force.  There are 161 of the 2/30 Battalion at Thanbyuzayat.

(The 2/30 have probably the most comprehensive Second World War battalion website http://www.230battalion.org.au/ with details of nearly everyone who served.)

Most of these men died at the ‘hospital’ at Songkurai, about 120km from Thanbyuzayat on the Thai side of the border, where a bridge was being built. The site is still accessible.

In Pattie Wright’s terrific book of interviews Men of the Line (2008) Dr Peter Hendry 2/10th Field Ambulance describes how “in Sonkurai we had a rolling population about 50 – 100 patients who were too sick to work and they came into our little hospital to die … my memory now is that only a few survived. We were a death camp.’

‘Beri-beri was the worst disease up there and it was dreadful in itself, but if you contracted that, it often became easy to get cholera or dysentery. I saw one fellow this particular day who had beri-beri and he was very bloated, then the next day he was emaciated with cholera  – he was like a skeleton within twenty-four hours. Cholera was that quick and lethal and there was little to nothing we could do to stop it.’ (p187-88)

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blackadder 2_30 thanby     Private Cecil James Blackadder, 2/30 Battalion, enlisted at Woolgoolga, NSW in 1940, died of cholera at    Songkurai on4 September 1943, aged 30.

‘In sunshine and perfect peace, a silent thought brings many a tear.’

Sapper Lawrence Norman  Constantine 2/6 Field Park Co  enlisted at Claremont WA   died of illness at Songkurai on 24 August 1943 aged  32.

‘A True Australian who gave all for freedom – loving memories.’

Signaller Colin Robert Jacoby, Corps of Signals from Mt Lawley WA,

Enlisted  20 7 1940. Colin was in A Force, the first to be sent to Burma in May 1942. He died of cerebral malaria 28 February 1944

‘Who loved life, laughter and his fellow men – for these he died.’

Pte Eric William Lambert 3rd Reserve Motor Transport Company AASC died of illness on  22 May 1944 38. Some AASC men were ordered to Java on 6 February and were taken prisoner there, and were later sent to Burma.

He heard the call and answered. He died open eyed and unafraid

WRB Lyon 2_30   Private William Robert Barrie Lyon, 2/30 Battalion, enlisted at Ellenborough NSW, died of illness (dysentery) at Songkurai on 25 November 1943, aged 34.

His spirit lives in the land he loved.

Gunner Allan Austin  McLennan, 2/10 Field Regiment,  enlisted in Toowoomba died of illness 5 Oct 1943 aged 37. Of the 834 officers and men of the regiment who became prisoners, 270 died.

‘He gave his life that we might be free. Proudly remembered.’

simpson   Private Thomas  Simpson 2/30 enlisted at Maryborough Q in 1941, F Force 21 April 1943  , died of cardiac beri-beri 29 September 1943  aged 26.

Loved and sadly missed by Dad Mum brothers and sisters of Gympie

Pte Lancelot Shirley Walker NX37598  I Company Army Service Corps , tram conductor  from Deloraine Tasmania. Enlisted 30 June 1941, arrioved Singapore 18 October 1941, was made prisoner on Java on 7 March 1942 Died of Dysentery and Malaria6 Nov 1943, aged 38.