The available rosters provide differing pieces of information. One set tells us which POWs were in a particular place, but these are often not dated so can present some confusion. There are those that tell us only what their causes of death were. Still others identify the men who were assigned to a particular work party or group. There are rare sets that provide more than one of these pieces of information. Only by painstakingly recording each tidbit of this information can we piece together a clearer picture. I liken it to assembling a jigsaw puzzle.
Once again it must be noted that the records that have survived were largely kept by the UK officers and data for any other nationality is purely serendipitous.
I must say, however, that in completing my initial task of telling the story of the US POWs, the records they kept tell us the most complete story of any of the many groups. The surviving UK records are weighted heavily to the members of H & F Forces. These comprised about one-third of the 35,000 UK and AUS POWs who worked in the Thai Sector. Except for the US contingent which comprised only 1% of the total POWs, we have very little information about those who worked the Burma Sector. It is possible to intuit some information in that those who went to Burma from Java (via Singapore) arrived there early in the construction period and they tended to be sent as military units. We also know that very few UK POWs worked in Burma. Thus we can assign men to work groups based on dates of death (early in 42 & 43) and the military unit they were in. Yet for the Burma workers we have very little COD data.
The situation becomes somewhat more complicated in that these Burma Sector POWs tended to leap-frog each other moving closer to the Thai border then finally crossing into Thailand as construction was nearing its end. These groups then overlapped into the camp areas that F Force moved to starting about May 43.
I have made inquiries but to date I have found no rosters that identify the military units – if not the actual individual POWs – who were assigned to the various work groups. We know that LtCol Toosey was the commander of the 135 (The Hertfordshire Yeomanry) artillery regiment and that they were initially sent to NongPlaDuk as part of Grp 1 before many if not all were transferred to build the two bridges. Compiling available records, we have place and cause of death on about 60% of these men. We have data showing that a few (<10) men from this unit found their way into H or F Forces and a few into Group IV. Given the sparse COD and place death information we have (only on 32) we could come to the conclusion that they died while building the bridges. This would be incorrect. The most quoted numbers suggest that LtCol Toosey’s efforts to protect his men were quite successful and that less than a dozen died during those month of bridge building. This is borne out in the available data in that 21 are recorded as having died at follow-on camps during the post-construction period. I related this rather complicated and somewhat unsatisfying sub-saga only to suggest that the paths that these men took is varied enough that it is easy to be led astray if we try to infer too much from the available data. All we can truly say about the members of the 135 (The Hertfordshire Yeomanry) artillery regiment is that 103 are buried in Thailand and that about one-third of those from whom there is a recorded COD died of malaria. That is another way of saying that we cannot confirm the figure of a dozen or fewer deaths during bridge construction; nor can we identify the exact POWs who died during that period. Although sifting down into data I would suggest that a dozen is just about the figure I’d arrive at given the sparse data available on these artillerymen. It makes me wonder if there wasn’t a more complete roster kept by Toosey’s staff that would better address their places and causes of death much in the same way that LTC Tharp’s staff kept records for the US POWs. Sadly, no such roster seems to have survived.
Lastly, I have no records of any deaths occurring at the camps closest to HellFire Pass; Kanyu and Malay Hamlet. There D Force largely made up of Australian POWs likely from Java worked in horrendous conditions and many died. Yet, we have no such records. D Force is said to have arrived in MAR 43. But all of the unassigned AUS POW deaths date after that. And except for many deaths at Tarso and Kanyu, there are none that seem directly attributable to Hellfire Pass. Work there commenced in late APR and continued into SEP 43. There is simply no large group of unexplained deaths during that period! There are at most just over 100 AUS POWs whose data is unknown that would fit that time slot! Common tales relate 700 died there and that 69 were beaten to death! I shall continue to try to uncover the names of these men. Apparently, D Force who are generally credited with working the Pass were later augmented by AUS POWs from H Force who were housed at the Malay Hamlet camp. But here, too, there seem to be too few to account for a total of 700 deaths. If we sort the known graves by period (Speedo) and place Kanyu and Malay Hamlet, there are barely 250 graves that could be attributed to deaths at HellFire. Plus there were some extensive records kept as to COD of H Force members. None of them are listed as dying of any injuries that could be construed as ‘beatings’. 700 and 69 are impossible to account for.
Unfortunately, I can find no easy way to summarize the data as to who died where of what. The Table is just too enormous to display or even to understand easily. It is possible to make some generalized statements. For example, of the 1688 POW burials at ChungKai cemetery about 1000 are recorded as having died there. But there is only data on COD for 685 of those. But since we know that ChungKai was a major place of consolidation of sick POWs, knowing that they died there adds little to their individual story as far as what work groups they belonged to. Another 127 who are buried in Don Rak are said to have died at ChungKai.
For completeness, I include the following TABLE in which I present the locations of recorded deaths by their Kilo number beginning at NongPlaDuk. I have also labelled the more significant locations to the right.
|place of death||dietary||cholera||GI||INF||INJ||MAL||nat cau||war||Totals|
The war-related deaths noted above demand special explanation. All but 17 who were executed are due to errant bombs that struck the POW housing areas. In a few instances, men were simply recorded as KIA/MIA with no identifiable remains found. Those recorded as dying at K213 were as a result of an DEC 44 bomb and strafing attack of a train moving mostly Dutch POWs to do repair work on the TBR. Most of the US deaths are recorded as having occurred at the K80 hospital camp at Apalaine as well as the camps at K100 and 105 in Burma. I have highlighted those cells where >100 deaths occurred simply for emphasis.
What is also significant in the lack of reports from the close-in Thai camps (< Kilo100). The conditions in these camps where construction was taking place early were much better than those later and deeper in the the build area. Likely, most sick men were evacuated to either ChungKai or Kanchanaburi hospitals and did not die at the camp per se. The locations with numbers 263 and larger were under the authority of the 5th Railway Regiment in Burma.
Aside from ChungKai, another place that was obviously used as a hospital camp by is rarely mentioned in any accounts is Toncha (aka Tonchan at Kilo140; between Tampi and Tarso). There are deaths recorded as occurring there as early as Nov 42 among members assigned to Work Groups 1 and 4. Later it became a point of hospitalization for both H & F Forces as the IJA struggled to deal with the massive numbers of sick men in these two groups. It is said to have been one of the first camps that early arriving members of H Force were assigned to. Registered CODs suggest that a fair number of members of Groups 1 and 4 died here of cholera. These groups were among the early arrivals in 1942. They obviously moved farther along the TBR after completing work at their first assigned camps at the lower end of the TBR. It is not clear where they were assigned to work during the May-June 43 period when cholera was raging in F Force. We can only assume that they too were in the Thai Highlands and were exposed to this rapid killer. Of the 250 deaths listed as occurring there, 125 have cholera as the COD. This is spread across a number of work groups other than H & F.
If we collate the known places of death with the burial place, there are only a few ‘outliers’. These are men whose data do not align properly. For example, one man is recorded as dying at Kanchanaburi but was buried in Burma. He was a member of the 2/29th Regiment AIF for whom other data tells us worked in the Burma Sector and most likely in Work Grp A. How he would have found his way to Kanchanaburi in AUG 43 to die there of malaria is a mystery. Unless his place of death was simply recorded in error. One has to accept that in a data set of over 12,000 names and multiple data points for each one, there will necessarily be a small percentage of errors. There are other similar ‘outliers’ who date, place and cause of death simple do not seem plausible.
Fortunately, there only seem to be a few of these outliers who various data points do not seem to align properly. Given the other limitations of this data set overall, a few simple errors are not fatal to the analysis.
One final comment about the WHEN of these deaths. Sorting the dataset by date of death reveals that 30-31 May and into early June, were particularly bad days fro the POWs. Across many locations and from many causes — especially cholera — dozens of men died on these dates.
It must also be noted that these are records of those POWs who are buried in Thailand or Burma. Most of the survivors of the F & H groups were returned to Singapore. There they continued to die of TBR-related illnesses. Many of the same conditions were also present in those who never left Singapore, so one would have to know the POW’s ‘travel history’ to make the connection. We know that nearly 30% of the US POW deaths occurred after completion of the Railway.