Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bridge over the River Kwai (Kwae)

Many people are somewhat  familiar with a tragic true story that occurred in Thailand during World War II.
Actual bridge behind us...... note the two spans with flat trusses - these are new spans replaced after the War - allied bombs took out the original rounded truss spans

The story is immortalized due to the Book The Bridge over the River Kwai (Le Pont de la Rivi√®re Kwai) is a novel by Pierre Boulle, published in French in 1952 and English translation by Xan Fielding in 1954. The story is fictional but uses the construction of the Burma Railway, in 1942–43, as its historical setting. The novel deals with the plight of World War II British prisoners of war forced by the Imperial Japanese Army to build a bridge for the "Death Railway", so named because of the large number of prisoners and conscripts who died during its construction.

The furthering of the knowledge was enhanced by the Movie The Bridge on the River Kwai which is a 1957 Second World War film directed by David Lean, based on the the novel. It stars William Holden, Jack Hawkins, Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayakawa. The movie was filmed in Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka). The bridge in the film was located near Kitulgala. The film was widely praised, winning seven Academy Awards (including Best Picture) at the 30th Academy Awards; in 1997 this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". It is widely considered to be one of the greatest films of all time.

On a recent on Saturday we hired a driver to take us to this historical site about two hours West of Bangkok in Kanchanaburi province.

During World War II, the Japanese were fighting the British in the Burmese & Indian theater.  After the Japenese defeats in the Pacific Ocean at Midway and Wake Island the tide began to turn in the South Pacific and they were unable to get all of their supplies to that theater of the War by boat with absolute safety.  The Japanese decided they needed a rail route from Thailand to Burma.  There was a 415 Kilometer gap to fill between the rail lines in Burma and Thailand.  With the surrender of Singapore, the Japanese had a large force of allied Prisoners of War to use as free labor. So they laid a plan to use the POWs and other local laborers to build the railroad in one year.  It took them 15 months.  The POWs and other laborers suffered drastically.  About 13,000 of the 60,000 POWs died.  Another 100,000 civilian also died building he railway.  The Railway operated for about 2 years before it was destroyed by the allied Air Forces.

The bridge described in the book didn't actually cross the River Kwai. The author had never been to the bridge. He knew that the 'death railway' ran parallel to the River Kwae for many miles, and he therefore assumed that it was the Kwae which it crossed just North of Kanchanaburi. This was an incorrect assumption; the bridge actually crossed the Mae Klong river.

When David Lean's film The Bridge on the River Kwai was released, the Thais faced a problem. Thousands of tourists came to see the bridge over the River Kwai, but no such bridge existed. However, there did exist a bridge over the Mae Klong. So, to resolve the problem, they renamed the river. The Mae Klong is now called the Kwae Yai ('Big Kwae') for several miles north of the confluence with the Kwae Noi ('Little Kwae'), including the bit under the bridge.

Please note the correct local pronunciation is Kwae not Kwai. 

Brother Mac - Our driver
The driver we hired for the day, happens to be Brother Mac (Chanawat Ratmate) the 1st Counselor in the Asoke Branch Presidency where I am serving as the 2nd counselor.  His Father was a young man during World War II.  After the War was over the people of Thailand were encouraged by the government to have large families (more than one wife if required) to replenish the population that was decimated by the Japanese atrocities. Brother Mac's Father had 19 children (four separate wives).  Brother Mac is one of the younger children/  Brother Mac was not aware of the details of the amazingly cruel things that the Japanese did during the War.  As the Day wore on and we saw Cemeteries and museums and War sites he got more and more upset at the Japanese. 

It was a very emotional and educational day and we enjoyed sharing the Day with Elder and Sister Seppi and Brother Mac. 
Cemetery in Kanchanaburi town - about 6400 Graves of Allied solders - many were relocated to this spot

There are three major cemeteries .... the one pictured above (the largest), another across the river and the third in Burma at the other end of the railroad. Remains of all of the American POWs were relocated back to the US - only about 60 or so. 

Note: bottom line - added by Family after Remains moved to this site

Another Unique family added quote

Train approaching the bridge - lot's of tourists

Other side of the bridge - just before the train came - You can tell Brother Mac is a fun loving guy.

View from the Bridge with Buddhist Temple across the river

Good View looking across the bridge - This section is one of the replaced sections

After leaving the Bridge site we traveled another hour or so North-northwest to the Australian Government maintained Hellfire Pass Museum.  It is located on a section of the Death Railway where many workers perished.
In the middle of the deep cut of Hellfire pass
The railway construction was primarily done by hand. Very little mechanical equipment was available. The name Hellfire pass comes from the fact that the Japanese had the POWs working 18 hours a day. After dark the lanterns and fires lighting the work area illuminated the thin workers and reminded the POWs of what Hell must be like. 

There is a self guided walk you can take along the abandoned railway.  Some of the scenery was breathtaking. The recording has specific numbered stops where they give you some additional information on the history of the death railway.
Beautiful lush forests - Burma (Myanamar) in the distance

Elder Meeker soaking in the surroundings while listening to some real history
When we saw this we decided it was time to turn back - Got back to the Parking Lot just as the rain arrived

On the way back to Bangkok Brother Mac wanted to stop at one more location.  It is called the Krasae Cave - which is right along he Railroad.  The word for Cave is Tham.  The Restaurant was closed - we arrived late in the day. 
Sister Seppi and Siser Meeker choose not to wander out on the trestle along the river.  We men did enjoy the adventure and we made it back in one piece.


Telling the wives - yes we are going to walk out on the tracks

Brother Mac pointing out - It is a long way down --- duh!
Yes that is us way in the distance on the track above the river

Entrance to the Cave

Buddha in side the cave

At the end we entered the cave along the Railroad which the locals have turned into a Buddhist shrine by installing a Buddha statue inside.

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