to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

34.24 Questions

Having examined the various geographical and terrain features that determined the path that the TBR took, some questions arise as to why other assets were not utilized. We know that the tremendous influx of new workers at BanPong outstripped the available transportation assets so that they had to walk a minimum of 150 Kms to their assigned workplaces; many walked much farther. One is forced to ask why the Mae Klong River was not better utilized as a means to more efficiently and safely deliver these new ‘tools’. Today the dam at Tha Muang interrupts navigation between BanPong and Kanchanaburi, but one of the reasons the city of KAN existed was trade along that river. Surely boats and barges could have been utilized to move large numbers of workers. Perhaps the main impediment would have been the counter-flow current during the rainy season, but that hardly seems to be a factor that could not be overcome. Having healthier workers delivered faster would seem to have only contributed to the timely completion of the project.

In a parallel argument, the two rail systems were never directly connected. The older pre-existing rails brought the workers to BanPong. Those trains would then undoubtedly go on to NongPlaDuk before returning south to repeat their shuttle mission. But for the placement of a few switches, the old and new systems were never cross-linked. After a 17-1800 hundred kilometer journey, it was only another 50 Km to Kanchanaburi and 100 more to HellFire Pass. Could those trains not have delivered the ‘tools’ farther up the line rather than depositing them at BanPong and forcing a death-defying trek?   

Similarly, the completed portions of the Railway seem to have been under-utilized for delivering supplies vital to the health of the workers. Seemingly only construction equipment (rails, ties, cement and the like) was carried on the trains. No food, no medications or other items to ensure the maintenance of the ‘tools’ was delivered. One argument was the lack of available rolling stock. It seems like an unprecedented decision was made during the cholera outbreak to use trains to evacuate hundreds of ill men to a newly established ‘hospital’ at Thambaya. So many of the F Force POWs were disabled that the local facilities were completely overwhelmed. Trains were used to ferry them nearly 100 Kms west into Burma. But trains were never used to deliver new ‘tools’ to the work camps. 

One common excuse offered for not merging the various rail systems was that the existing systems in both Thailand and Burma were operated by those respective governments. There seems to have been adequate amounts of rolling stock to ferry workers from Malaya and Singapore and even to distribute military supplies within Burma. Yet, these assets were never utilized on this newly constructed link between them. The IJA had no reservations about looting anything and everything useful to them from the various countries they had conquered. So why not use any and all available rolling stock to more efficiently build the TBR?     

Once the Railway was operating to carry men and supplies to the Burma combat area, the returning trains ferried out wounded soldiers. But those same trains were also utilized to consolidate the TBR workers to the ‘rest camps’ at Kanchanaburi. This, however, took a considerable amount of time. The last of the US POWs did not reach KAN until May 1944. In the interim, they had been working in the jungle camps cutting wood for fuel.

After arrival at the ‘rest camps’, many POWs were sent to other destinations. Men were moved by rail to Bangkok then on to Japan or Vietnam. The survivors of F & H Forces were returned to Singapore soon after completion of the TBR. One additional reason for the hardships they endured during their relatively short time in Thailand was that they were never officially transferred to the responsibility of the 9th Railway Regiment. Survivors relate the story that due to Japanese ‘efficiency’ the same number of railway cars (bogies) were sent to ferry them back to Singapore as had carried them north. So many had died that the trip back was much less crowded and more comfortable than their trip just a few weeks before.

There is no doubt that the combination of indifference of the IJA to the plight of the POWs and romusha combined with the abject failure of the logistics system to provide adequate food and supplies to the camps contributed greatly to the hardships and deaths that befell the TBR workers. IOW the IJA did little to adequately maintain their ’tools’. Perhaps it seemed to them that there was simply a never-ending supply of new replacements for those who died at their hand.