Hellfire Pass

This is probably the most infamous section of the former “Death Railway” in Thailand. It is located in Kanchanaburi Province about 3 hours drive WNW of Bangkok. I visited with my family on a “cool” (a relative term in Thailand when usually it either “hot” or “bloody hot”) December’s day.

Hellfire Pass is so called because the sight of emaciated prisoners toiling at night by torchlight resembled such a hellish scene. In the museum high on the hill above you can buy a postcard of the scene though I don’t know why anyone would want such a card. The museum is jointly sponsored by the Thai Army and the Australian Government. The pass, and associated museum, lies within the grounds of a Thai Army garrison. The museum is well designed, informative and maintained to a high standard as are the paths leading to and from the pass. In fact there are a number of good walks you can do in the immediate area. The surrounding countryside is attractive but I can imagine those working on the death railway had little time or inclination to admire the scenery.

69 men were beaten to death by Japanese and Korean guards in the 6 weeks it took to build the pass. Many more died from disease, starvation and sheer exhaustion. The majority of deaths occurred amongst those who were enticed to build the line with promise of paid employment. These labourers, mostly Malayans (Chinese, Malays and Tamils), suffered equally with the Australian, British and Dutch POWs at the hands of the Japanese.

Hellfire Pass was a hard section to build not least due to it being the largest rock cutting on the route, its remoteness and the lack of tools. The labourers and POWs were forced by the Japanese to work 18 hours a day in order to complete.

Above is a symbolic piece of the “death” railway to the right of which is a memorial to the courageous Australian surgeon, Sir Ernest Edward “Weary” Dunlop.

 It was actually pleasant walking down to the pass.  The tree below has grown since the war and is slap in the middle of the pass (you can just make it out in the above photo). I suppose it’s nature’s statement that life goes on.

All was quite peaceful except for the wind passing through the trees above. I found it very hard to imagine the hell it once was.

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About The Weary Traveller

I like to walk up and down hills. I've been so very fortunate to have lived most of my life in the Far East (Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) and the Middle East (Qatar, Oman and U.A.E). I now live and work in Bangkok. I'm past the half century now and can't help but feel that some of the mountains that I've climbed lately I should have done yesteryear. The mind is willing if the legs are not always so. Here are some stories and realized dreams of hills climbed and, dales and deserts crossed. With a bit of art thrown in. I hope you might enjoy.
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5 Responses to Hellfire Pass

  1. (Middle) Tim. says:

    Weary T on Weary D. Any good stories about him linked to the Pass?

    • No specific stories that I am aware of. His name is really synonymous with the “death railway” as a whole. I have a book on “Weary” at Portgower – welcome to read. Interestingly there was a small controversy in 2005 when they were renovating the area, his relatives complained that they were disturbing his remains (his ashes were scattered over the track at Hellfire Pass in 1994). Further they considered the memorial unnecessary. I can see their point. However if it were not for the little memorial I, and I expect most others, would have never known that his ashes were there.

  2. Kevin Said says:

    Another great story Pat. I feel very excited about visiting these places after reading your stories and looking at your pictures. Not sure i could keep up if i tagged along though.

    Cheers, KS

  3. (Middle) Tim. says:

    Thanks – might look it out as needing some reading matter for impending fortnight in Uganda.

  4. hannay mi says:

    i always remember the broken drill bit embedded in the rock-i care not to think what the consequences were of that mishap to that poor soul.

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