to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

8.4 Kanchanaburi Railway HQ and POW camps

The first 50 or so Kms of the TBR ran from Nong Pladuk to Kanchanaburi across rather flat and unobstructed terrain. This section was completed in only a few weeks. It required quite a number of small bridges and some leveling but for the most part the rails ran straight and true. The same was true of the first 50 or so Kms coming out of Thanbyuzayat at the other end of the TBR.

By mid-NOV 1942, a large number of the IJA support staff and Railway Engineer units had moved to Kanchanaburi. This was to remain a major supply and repair hub throughout the construction and operational phases of the TBR. While two different Engineer Battalions were building the bridges, work was also going on across the river. For the most part, boats were used to move all supplies from KAN up the Kwae Noi river to the other camps.

This is where Khun BoonPong [see Section 8.13] became involved as a contract merchant supplying locally available items to the TBR camps.

After the completion of the TBR, the POWs and many of the romusha was consolidated at a number of camps running east down to the area of the Aerodrome. One important area was a large railyard and repair facility at Khao Din between the walled city of Kanchanaburi and Tha Muang.

Many important facilities including hospitals were located in and around the walled city. These included an aerodrome and at least five separate POW cemeteries. The current large CWGC cemetery in downtown KAN lies at the site of the largest of these.

map complied by the staff of the TBRCentre

Marked as 3b on the above map is the site of the original Kanchanaburi train station. Today that site is occupied by the Post Office. It is said that the railway spur also shown above was simply paved over into a roadway. That spur would have skirted past Way Chai and the original JEATH museum to where it met the river to allow for the transfer of cargo to barges.

Another exiting landmark is the now abandoned Paper Factory which many POWs mention in their stories. It was also used in the filming of the movie THE RAILWAY MAN.

The US POws were housed primarily in the camp area known as Thamakam located next to the two bridges.

The air-recon photo above denotes the road to LatYa. This was apparently considered as an optional route for the river crossing. It would have taken the railway some 5-6 Km westward from the site of the eventual Iron Bridge. There was apparently a bridge in that area that no longer exists near the horse-shoe bend in the river (see the bridge marked as TaDan above). Seemingly this route would have avoided the need for the Khao Poon cuttings near ChungKai and even the WangPo viaduct and would have rejoined the actual tracing in the vicinity of the Wang Lan Camp (Lat 13.58 N; Long 99.27 E). But once the stable river bed at Thamakan was determined, it was a considerably shorter route to loop back to ChungKai and then follow the river westward. Plus, the ChungKai area was an easily accessible crossing point for barges near the walled city of Kanchanaburi that allowed construction to proceed even as the bridges were being built.

Building the bridges:

8.4b the Tha Muang camp

Roughly 18 Km downstream from the Bridge, is the current hydro-electric dam.

A pre-construction map shows that there was a major bow in the course of the Mae Klong River that was transected by a new channel when that dam was built.

Although the information is sparse, the area marked by the circle on the above map is thought to be the general location of the Tha Muang POW camp. This camp is mentioned in a number of survivor accounts. It appears to be what I refer to as a ‘follow-on’ camp. It likely did not exist in any size before 1944. It was certainly not a TBR work camp. It was likely created after the POWs were consolidated to the Kanchanaburi area following the completion of the Railway. It is described by members of the Australian 2/4 Machine Gun Bn on their Unit website: [for some reason I am unable to embed this URL]

It was likely a staging area for POWs who were being transported to Japan and the other projects such as the Kra Isthmus Railway. It is said to have been built on a former tobacco farm and may have housed as many as 10,000 POWs. Other than placing it on the riverbank, the sketch and photos below do not help us to locate it.

If we merge all the information available, it seems that this camp was just downstream from the current dam next to the major bow in the Mae Klong river. After the dam was placed in 1970, that bow was no longer the main channel of the river and today acts more like a reservoir for irrigation water distribution.

The AUS website cited above also suggests that this may have been a way-stop for IJA soldiers being evacuated from Burma; particularly wounded. Of passing interest, just to the east of the camp location where the road (Rte 3548) makes a 45deg turn away from the river, is a hot springs now occupied today by Wat Wang Kanay. Such a feature would lend credence to the location. But little is known of this. The esteemed physician, LtCol “Weary” Dunlop describes passing through this camp as he was making his way to the newly established hospital (also in APR 1944) at Nakorn Pathom.

In the immediate post-war era, Dutch soldiers (former TBR POWs) were housed here well into 1947. They were unable to return to the DEI due to political unrest of the independence movement.

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