to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

17b. Burma

The Burma segment of the TBR was assigned to the 5th Railway Regiment actually extended across the Thai-Burma border some 40 Kms into Thailand. This segment was 152 Km long while the Thai segment built by the 9th Railway Regiment was 260 Km long.

The rugged mountainous terrain of the Burmese sector required more fill and larger bridges, since the river systems ran across the TBR path.

The majority of US POWs (less those who worked in the Hintok area) spent their entire time while building the TBR in the Burmese sector. The Fitzsimmons group worked close to Thanbyuzayat in the 18-55 Kilo area; while the larger Tharp group worked in the highlands in the 80-115 Kilo segment. It is reported that the first 50 or so kilometers coming out of Thanbyuzayat traversed relatively flat and unobstructed terrain so that the rails could be laid with relative ease. Following that, the workers at that end were mainly tasked to load supplies and construction items being sent to the highlands where the terrain imposed major obstacles. Since there was no parallel river way as was the case on the Thai side, all the supplied had to be transported overland by road or rail.

The Fitzsimmons Party was augmented by a group of British POWs who had escaped from Singapore but were captured in the island of Sumatra and eventually to Tavoy and then Thanbyuzayat. They became known as the British Sumatra Battalion. This group may have included up to 4600 Sumatran natives. Their story is told here:

“On 10th March a party of American prisoners arrived with an officer in charge, Captain Fitz-Simmons. The ‘Battalion’, much against their will, joined up with this party and one week later, on 20th March, went down by road to Thetkaw, the 14 Kilo Camp.”

The four large bridges in Burma were frequent targets for the Allied bombers attempted to interdict the flow of supplies to the Burma Front.


“But with the defeat of the Japanese (the railway) vanished forever and only the most lurid wartime memories and stories remain. The region is once again a wilderness, except for a few neatly kept graveyards where many British dead now sleep in peace and dignity. As for the Asians who died there, both Burmese and Japanese, their ashes lie scattered and lost and forgotten forever.”

– Ba Maw in his diary, “Breakthrough In Burma” (Yale University, 1968).

A tour of the war-related museum near the Thanbyuzayat Cemetery:

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