to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

34.27 Documentation

It’s somewhat startling to realize how little actual documentation we have of the three and a half years of the ordeal of these TBR-related events. The vast majority of available photos were taken immediately post-war as Allied troops arrived to evacuate the prisoners and begin the collection of the dead. A few of the POWs managed to hide cameras but almost by definition the negatives they exposed were damaged by the elements before they could be processed. I’m often amazed at how well some of them turned out. It also my understanding that much of the IJA film and photos have either been lost or forgotten in some warehouse. Memoirs speak to various events that were filmed like the OCT 43 joining ceremony and the 1944 Shrine dedication, but none of that film has surfaced. In an interview, one of actual photographers remarked that he was surprised that any of his work survived the war.  

Periodically, photos will be posted without citing a source. I assume that there are myriads of aerial recon photos of the TBR that are archived away and forgotten. These would be of considerable assistance as long as they contain some identifying data as to date and place. A random black and white pix of trackless jungle or even a bridge is rather worthless. Digitization has made a huge amount of information available on-line but I’d guess that only a fraction of what exists in archives has been accessed.  

Some of the most poignant depictions of camp life are drawings generated after the war based on the artist’s memories of events. A few were contemporaneous that did manage to survive. Then, of course, there are the recorded and written memoirs of the survivors. As far as ‘puzzle pieces’ go, they are undoubtedly the most useful in revealing the true story of the TBR.  

One of my personal favorites was how a Brit POW described his journey from Kanchanaburi west towards LatYa. This confused me until I realized that those headed past WangPo were routed over the bridge at Tadan then south to the river. Those going to camps before WangPo were ferried up the river. So far, he is the only one to describe that route that I am aware of.

There are also hand-drawn maps that often do not seem to correlate well with known landmarks. They are all likely based on true events but the details can get distorted over time. One such map depicts a not-to-scale road bridge crossing the river near the iron and wood railway bridges. In that era, no road bridge crossed there. Unfortunately, errors like that cast doubt on other such maps drawn by the same person.

But there is a caution. As time passes and especially when men relate events that they heard of but were not present to witness, some can easily get distorted. One that seems to recur often is that US POWs drowned IJA soldiers during the JAN 43 bomb attack on the ships en route to Burma. The basic story is true, but no Americans were in the water. They were Dutch POWs who boasted of their ‘deed’ upon their rescue.  

Finally, a pet peeve about due diligence and the job of a book editor. The published memoirs contain many incomplete and some erroneous entries simply because no one questioned what was being said or delved deeper into it. No clarification is offered; as with getting to the river via LatYa. US POWs did NOT commit a war crime by drowning helpless soldiers! Why was this never questioned?  

The lack of documentation and the failure to record the full and true story of these events results in the nonsense that makes its way into modern day videos about the Railway.