The Death Railway Over Kwai River - Bridge of Kwai Built With Forced Labor by The Prisoners of War

Bridge Over The River Kwai

Bridge over the River Kwai
Bridge over the River Kwai | Source

The Death Railway

The Bridge Over River Kwai - The Death Railway also named Burma Railway, Thailand-Burma Railway

Death Railway or rail line to death: Thailand-Burma Railway is the unofficial name of the railway line, built by the Japanese army during World War II from June 1942 to October 1943 between the former Burma and Thailand with forced laborers and prisoners of war.

The railway line has a length of nearly 415 km from Thanbyuzayat in Myanmar to Nong Pladuk Junction in Ban Pong district of the province Changwat, Ratchaburi, Thailand, which are located 111 km in Myanmar and the remaining 304 km on Thai territory. The single-track line was created in Japan in the usual gauge of 1067 mm.

The River Kwai Bridge in Kanchanaburi

The Death Railway has a known film "The Bridge on the River Kwai". It was also known as a prisoner in hell. Approximately 94,000 Asian (forced) labor, and about 14,000 Allied prisoners lost their lives during construction of the route.

In Kanchanaburi, 111 km west-northwest of Bangkok, prisoners of war were forced to build two bridges. First a wooden bridge built and five months later, a steel bridge. Both were destroyed by the Allies, the first wooden bridge. The steelbridge was rebuilt in 1946 by a Japanese company. It was repaired in 1971, and is still in operation today.


Bridge 277 and Hellfire Pass

The most famous part of the railway is Bridge 277, 'the bridge over the River Kwai', built over the vast river later known as part of the Mae Klong.

Hellfire Pass, largest rocks railway cutting. It is known because of the forced labor of the prisoners with poor and harsch conditions that many prisoners died during the construction of the line. The prisoners worked 18 hours day and night. The prisoners who worked at night were using torchlight which gave a scenery reflection of HELL. Many have died from exhaustion, starvation, cholera, diarrhea.


Death Statistics

A total of 108,000 people were killed in the construction of the railway line including about 94,000 from various Asian countries, 6540 British, 2830 Dutch, 2710 Australians, 131 Americans and 413 prisoners of other nationalities. Also deported Korean and Japanese laborers were among the dead.

The "Death Railway" was just one of many war crimes that were committed by the imperialist Japan.

The Imperial War Museum in London, Australian War Memorial and State Library of Victoria

One can see the works of artistIn in the Imperial War Museum in London, Australian War Memorial and State Library of Victoria, which were evidence in the trials of Japanese war criminals. The paintings described the cruel horrifying living conditions of the laborers and life in the POW camps. Human hair were used for brushes, plant juices and blood for painting, and as canvas, toilet papers.

The artist were: Ronald Searle, Jack Bridger Chalker, Ashley George OLd and Philip Meninsky.


Cemetery and Memorials of The POW's and Laborers

Several memorials were built after the war on the side of Thailand. Kanchanaburi is the largest war cemetery where more than 90,000 victims of all Allied nations were buried, who were involved in building of the Death Railway. Many graves have no names because the Japanese often thrown the bodies into the river or on the edge of the track left behind, where they were later found.

Directly to the cemetery is the JEATH War Museum. JEATH consists of the initials of the names of countries involved in the war (Japan, England, America, Australia, Thailand and Holland). In the bamboo-built museum, pictures of the prisoners in the camps from the war days and found objects from the construction of the route are displayed. Also parts of the bridges which were destroyed from bombing can be seen.

Another small museum is located on the east side of the Kwai Bridge.

The Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum was built by the Australians and was opened by the Australian Prime Minister at the end of April 1998. One can take a tour of the Hellfire Pass and the whipped breach where many tools are displayed.

The Bridge On The River Kwai


funeral of a POW
funeral of a POW | Source
hospital ward
hospital ward | Source
Skin Ulcers - some undergone leg amputations
Skin Ulcers - some undergone leg amputations | Source
Leg or thigh amputation
Leg or thigh amputation | Source
types of leg/thigh prosthetics produced from POW soldiers in the Base Hospitals
types of leg/thigh prosthetics produced from POW soldiers in the Base Hospitals | Source

Colin Firth & Nicole Kidman in The Railway Man

There will be a movie coming soon, " The Railway Man " - A true story featuring Colin Firth acting as the victim from World War II's "Death Railway" with his wife actress, Nicole Kidman encouragng him to find those responsible for his torture.

The Railway Man - Official Trailer [HD] Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman

Colin Firth & Nicole Kidman in The Railway Man - Behind the Scenes - with David Gray.avi

Click thumbnail to view full-size

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Comments 11 comments

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

It was the first American film and the first dramatic role I had ever seen Alec Guinness in.The psychology of how he got so carried aware with the project that he forgot the purpos was the most stricking part of it.

Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 5 years ago from Germany

The Bridge on the River Kwai was an awesome war film. It was the first war film I have seen in the telly here in Germany although it was showed by the Dutch television program back in the 80`s. Wonderful film to see with Alec Guinness. Thanks for sharing.

carolp profile image

carolp 5 years ago from Switzerland Author

dahoglund, Thanks for your comment. This was a war crime and it showed the whole world. The importance of respecting human rights instead of torturing The respect of prisoners as a human being. It is sad because i think in the other parts of the world even now some prisoners are not fairly treated and this happen again and again.

carolp profile image

carolp 5 years ago from Switzerland Author

Thank you for your comment Thelma Alberts. It was a touching film and as i saw the graves of the very young soldiers who died at this event, i hold my tears.

marellen 5 years ago

How sad for those POW's that lost their life building that bridge only to have it destoryed. Very interesting and informative hub. Thank you for sharing.

Arlene V. Poma 5 years ago

Well done! And a historic reminder of how cruel war can be. If we don't learn from this, we will repeat these same mistakes over and over again. Voted up all around.

carolp profile image

carolp 5 years ago from Switzerland Author

socialrafalino, Thank you. Yes indeed. The film is good and i like it. I came across this film as i was very young. I would recommend it too for the new regenrations at 18 y.o. One could learn and look back.

carolp profile image

carolp 5 years ago from Switzerland Author

marellen, thank you for your comment. Many lives offered to make this bridge accompanied with cruelty.

carolp profile image

carolp 5 years ago from Switzerland Author

Thanks Arlene V. Poma. I hope so...nowadays, there is still cruelty and torturing practiced somewhere to prisoners as i have seen in television broadcast like massacre, rape etc

sunilkunnoth2012 profile image

sunilkunnoth2012 4 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

Wonderful hub. thank you for writing such a nice one.

carolp profile image

carolp 4 years ago from Switzerland Author

Thanks for your visit sunilkunnoth2012 . Wish to hear from you soon.

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