Hellfire Pass

Hellfire Pass is an Australian war memorial in Kanchanburi Province in Thailand and was established in April of 1996. It serves as a war memorial as well as a nature trail and was formerly a railway line which has now been abandoned. The memorial is curated by the Office of Australian War Graves in conjunction with the Royal Thai Armed Forces. It is accessible on public transit via the Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi railway station which is 18 kilometres away. The Japanese recognize the pass as the Konyu Cutting which is the name of the now abandoned rail passage which provided access to the “Death Railway” in Thailand. It was built in World War II through the forced labour efforts of war prisoners. Many lost their lives throughout the construction under the harsh working conditions and it is thus that it achieved its name based on the torchlights assembled as the workers laboured through the nights.

Australian war memorial

It had to pass through the Tenasserim Hills which was rather treacherous and required extensive rock cutting in order to create an opening. The area is remote and tools and supplies were scarce through the building process. Many say that it would have been much easier to blast a tunnel than to create the open pass but the timing was such where a tunnel would take too long. The allied prisoners of war consisted of men from Australia, Britain and the Netherlands and the Japanese demanded 18 hours of work a day out of them to complete it within six weeks. Many met their death through beatings by the guards on duty while others fell to disease, starvation and exhaustion. Many other deaths were suffered by innocent labourers whom were lured from China and Malaysia under the false promise of good jobs. Their treatment was not separated from that of the POW’s and more of them died than did the allied prisoners.

The work ended up coming to naught as the railway was never built to a standard of permanent usability and was the target for many bombings in the Burma Campaign of the war. The railway remains in operation in other areas between Bangkok and Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi. Tourist trips are conducted on the rail line for viewings of the Whampo Viaduct and across the bridge over the River Kwai to Kanchanaburi where anyone visiting the museum generally makes their stay and then travels for the day back and forth to see the memorial.

The museum has the co-sponsorship of the Australian government and the Royal Thai Armed Forces Development Command and the construction was completed by the Office of Australian War Graves, and was followed by a grand opening by John Howard who was, at the time, Prime Minister of Australia. Visitors can walk right through the cutting and along the abandoned railway and can hear audio narration by surviving POWs. There have been a few attempts to resurrect the railway links connecting the 8 Asia countries in the vicinity and so far there nothing concrete has manifested in terms of development.

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