"The Bridge on the River Kwai" was completed in October 1943 and is forever linked to the eponymous Academie Award winning 1957 film directed by David Lean and starring William Holden, Jack Hawkins, and Alex Guinness.
The bridge is located on the edge of Kanchanaburi, a town situation approximately 125km to the west of Bangkok. The curved sections of the metal bridge are original. The center of the bridge was destroyed by British and American air raids in June 1945.The rectangular center sections are later repairs. The bridge is infamous as the site of a World War II prisoner of war camp administered by the Japanese and as part of the "Death Railway" built between Thailand and Burma.
When I asked the local Thais they told me that in Thai language the river isn't the "Kwai," which means buffalo. It is the river "Kwè" which is the Thai equivalent of a proper noun without a specific meaning. None of which matters. The Thai government officially changed the name of the river to "Kwai" after the film was released. The Japanese name for the bridge was, "Bridge 277."
"The notorious Burma-Siam railway, built by Commonwealth, Dutch and American prisoners of war, was a Japanese project driven by the need for improved communications to support the large Japanese army in Burma. During its construction, approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died and were buried along the railway. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilians also died in the course of the project, chiefly forced labour brought from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, or conscripted in Siam (Thailand) and Burma. Two labour forces, one based in Siam and the other in Burma, worked from opposite ends of the line towards the centre." Source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).
Work on the Burma Railway began on 15 September 1942 and was completed on 17 October 1943. It is believed that approximately 250,000 men took part in building the 258 mile railway line from Thanbyuzayat in Burma to Ban Pong in Thailand. Most were forced labourers either from neighbouring countries lured to work under false premise, or prisoners of war captured by the Japanese Imperial army. Owing to appalling treatment by their captors, a lack of medical and sanitation facilities and qualified medical personnel, and the hard work, hot climate and rough terrain, there was constant attrition through disease such as cholera, malaria, and dysentry, and from maltreatment.
For more information there is an extensive list of first hand accounts and other information on John Larkin's website dedicated to his father, prisoner of war Frank Larkin NX43393 AIF.
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