AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Kanchanaburi: Hellfire Pass

Hellfire Pass is a section of the Death Railway in which a cutting was made through solid rock. It was cut by hand with a 10 pound hammer and a drill to make a 1m hole, which was then filled with dynamite. The debris was then cleared by hand and the process was repeated. At its deepest it’s 25m deep and is about 300m in length. It is probably the most difficult section of the line to be built and saw a huge number of POW deaths. It is named Hellfire Pass because the men had to work day and night and by night it resembled a scene from hell due to the emaciated men and the torch light.

It’s 80km away from Kanchanaburi so we hired a moped and headed north.

As we descended down the hillside from the museum into the narrow ledge which the train line followed around the edge of the hill we listened to the audio guide. The commentary is from the survivers and is a story of malnourishment, disease, Japanese cruelty and death. How anyone could survive the conditions is incredible.

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We followed the trail for about another 20 minutes after the cutting, seeing where bridges had been built and more cuttings had been dug. Although it’s mostly shaded it was hot and we drank a whole 1.5L bottle of water on the trail. We had also had a meal just before the museum and had another 1.5L bottle of water waiting for us in the bike. The men who had dug the cutting had done it with far less food or water, in hotter conditions and with no shoes.

The next cutting was Hammer and Tap. Men had to pound a hammer and another man twised the drill part before explosives were used to clear the area. At the time of this cutting the Japanese had embarked on ‘Speedo’. The line was behind schedule and the railway layers had caught up with the diggers. Men now worked in shifts on a rotation basis. It is at this point in the railway’s history that the death toll increased dramatically. One of the audio clips told of how the Japanese did a stool test. If you had less than 80% blood in your stools you were fit enough to work!

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We took the path back to the museum at the top via the same route used by the POWs. It was a lot of steps uphill and wound around the hillside and up and down over the slopes. By the time we reached the museum we were tired and very thirsty. We learnt a lot about the men who built the line and would like to find out more about the Asian forced labourers but the Japanese did not keep records on those men. The Japanese kept detailed records about the POWs meaning historians and visitors can learn a great deal more about their daily lives but the vast majority of the workers were from Asia and have been lost to History. Overall, an interesting day.

All our photos from Hellfire Pass can be seen here.

Posted from Tha Sao, Kanchanaburi, Thailand.

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