to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

24.1 Limited data

In the data that I was able to download from the War Graves Commission website there are nearly 12100 [1] POW war graves listed at the three cemeteries. From the rosters I was able to locate providing information on causes of death there are 688 from Chung Kai (of 1688 graves), 2396 from Thanbyuzayat (of 3608 graves) and 3665 from Don Rak (of 6804 graves); 41%, 67% and 54% respectively. But these are heavily weighted to the UK members and include almost none of the Dutch. Of the 6690 available CODs, nearly 70% are of UK POWs, 27% of the AUS but only 5% on the Dutch.

The total POW burials by nationality are:

nationalityChgKaiDon RakThanTotal
New Zealand235
U K1377353616386543

One of the rosters listed causes of death specifically for men in H and F Forces. Given what we know about the overall situation that F Force found itself in [see Part 3 below] , it accounted for a total of 2200 of the known CODs. It is thought that F Force had a total of 7000 for a listed death toll of about 31%. This is double the generally accepted death toll by nationality. But F Force was also known to have been nearly equally divided as UK (3334) and AUS (3666) POWS with a few Dutch and US as well. But the CODs listed on these rosters are for 2000 UK. This would tally to a 60% death toll in the UK portion of F Force! For whatever reason, the AUS deaths were by and large not added to these rosters.

Before we try to wring more information out of these data sets, let’s look just at the 6690 listed causes of death. There were over 80 different conditions listed as CODs. I always find it helpful in such cases to categorize such large lists into smaller sets of like items. For example, infectious diseases resulted in the most deaths by far. All the various common causes of diarrheal disease caused 2441 deaths (37%). I separated out cholera into its own category not included in the above. It alone accounted for 16% (1065) the POW deaths!

Malaria was the most common of the other infections with 15%, while other causes (pneumonia, TB, diphtheria, typhus and even smallpox) contributed less than 5% to the death toll. I had not formerly appreciated the impact that cholera had on these men. Survivor accounts tend to play down the effect of cholera. But a look at this data tell a somewhat different story. It shows 1065 actual diagnoses of death due to this single organism; nearly 17% of all deaths recorded. I must also note here that there are an additional 62 graves that are noted in the CWGC archive as ‘presumptive‘ of cholera in that these men are interred in two common graves having been cremated at the time of their death. This side-story gets a bit more complicated when we consider that the actual COD as listed for a moderate number of these POWs is not cholera! For example at Don Rak, there are 209 men shown in the common grave, yet we have non-cholera CODs for 102 of them.


As can be seen above, gastro-intestinal diseases (less cholera) by far caused the most deaths [2]. All the issues that stemmed from their poor diet (both in quantity and quality) were next at 20% of all deaths recorded. For purposes of this discussion I have tallied Tropical Ulcers[3] in with the injury deaths. These accounted for 270 of the 317 injury-related deaths.

I was somewhat surprised at the category I have termed ‘war’ deaths. These were mainly the result of what today we would call “friendly fire” in that 175 were killed by Allied bombings. The other 17 were noted to have been executed; mainly for escape attempts. It must be noted that these are the ones whose remains were recovered and re-buried. According to survivor accounts, they were not allowed to attempt to recover many that they knew to have been executed.

There are also scattered notes in these war records saying that some remains were unrecoverable. Apparently, a team of men working to repair a bridge in Burma were drowned and swept away by the raging waters. We must always stop to remember that we are dealing with those POWs whose remains reside in these three cemeteries and not all deaths that occurred for all reasons. We have listed CODs for 6690 (55%) of the 12,067 POW graves.

It is also unexplainable at this time as to why there are names and causes that appear on these rosters that do not have a corresponding grave. In my survey of these records, I was simply matching CODs to known graves. Only a small percent (surely <3%) of the names on these rosters did not match the graves list. I would assume that some of these remains must have been repatriated upon request of their families. For whatever reasons, others did not seem to find their way into these war graves. I can also accept that the downloaded lists are not 100% complete. Perhaps not every grave was loaded onto the CWGC site or I was not able download every entry. It is not even know for certain how many of the existing graves are POWs versus others who found their way into these cemeteries in a variety of ways.

There is one remaining category which I did not list in the table above, I categorized as ‘natural causes’. These are conditions that perhaps pre-existed their POW status (e.g. epilepsy) or were conditions that would not seem to be due directly to their POW status (heart, kidney, liver disease). These accounted for barely 2% of the deaths.

[1] These are POW war graves only. Of which 30 due to dates, places and circumstances may not have been actual TBR POWs. Throughout this section, the precise numbers might not agree in that I was doing updates and discovered that there were indeed a number of non-POWs included in the earlier data set. I deleted those; reducing the total to 12071. But even this figure is subject to change as the data is refined. Since there was no additional data (COD) on any of these men, the figures in the analysis — which are mostly based on sub-sets — will not change.

[2] I must reiterate that these are the recorded causes of DEATH among these men. Almost all suffered multiple bouts of diarrheal disease as well as malaria. Many, if not most, had multiple conditions overlapping. But only one condition is recorded as the ultimate cause of death. A POW with dysentery and beri-beri who died of malaria is recorded only as a malaria death. As some POWs appear on different lists with different stated COD, it is obvious that on occasion it is hard to pick the precise COD.

[3] Tropical Ulcer is a condition unique to this era. It resulted from a mixed organism infection of a wound that literally consumed the flesh. While it IS an infection, its origins are due to injuries (often very minor). So for purposes of this discussion I have tallied those cases as INJURY. In addition, TU often necessitated amputation to save the man’s life. I would speculate that there are some post-surgery infections among the 50 deaths due to sepsis that were recorded.