Bridge on the River Kwai

The plan to build a railway linking Thailand to Burma was first considered by the British in the late nineteenth century. Surveys were conducted in 1885 and 1905 but the project was shelved due to the fact that it was not economically viable. In June 1942 the US naval fleet inflicted a decisive blow against the Japanese Imperial Navy at the Battle of Midway and deprived the Japanese of total control over the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. The Japanese needed a safe supply route to their forces in Burma and, with the vast quantity of PoWs at their disposal, the decision was made to build a railway from Ban Pong, Thailand to Thanbyuzayat in Burma, a distance of around 415kms.

Early construction crews reached their first obstacle at the River Kwai Yai at Kanchanaburi on the Thai side. A temporary wooden bridge, pictured below, had to be built across the river so as to transport supplies, equipment and workers further up the line.

Old Bridge

Barbaric treatment of the PoWs and Asian migrant workers was compounded not only by the mountainous jungle terrain, but by the tropical weather as well. Monsoons turned the entire area into vast mud pits stopping the progress of even the hardiest supply truck. To get around this problem the Japanese began retro-fitting army vehicles with an ingenious system that could easily replace rubber tyres with short gauge rail wheels that would run on the tracks already laid.

Much of the railway was torn up at the end of the war, and a large part now lies submerged within the Vajiralongkorn Dam, however there is around 130kms left that takes tourists from Ban Pong to the Sai Yok waterfalls on the border of Myanmar.

trainIf you get a chance to visit the bridge do yourelf a favour and walk along the tracks until you round the bend on the other side. The silence there will help you to digest the amount of human suffering that occurred so that the bridge and the railway could be built.


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