to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

8.7 Hellfire Pass

Perhaps the most infamous portion of the TBR is found near the 150 Km point as measured from Nong Pladuk. It is known as HELLFIRE PASS. The name originates from the torches used while the mainly Australian and romusha laborers were forced to work round the clock to complete this, the longest cutting on the TBR route. More treacherous terrain lay ahead as the railway rose into the highlands as it neared the border, but this area is known for the horrendous conditions the POWs had to endure. Just beyond the cutting are two of the larger trestles called the three-tiered bridge and the Pack of Cards trestle — the latter because it collapsed at least twice during its construction. No photographs of the Pack of Cards trestle are known to exist and the Three-tiered bridge was dismantled post-war. So only period photos of it survive today. The task of making this cut was assigned to the members of D Force to which were added some from H Force. It is reported that 69 men were beaten to death during the few weeks it took to complete this task. During its construction the members of H Force living at the Malay Hamlet camp were also battling an outbreak of cholera.

The Australian government maintains a memorial museum on the hillside overlooking the Pass as it has been reclaimed for trekking. Venturing much beyond the actual cutting is for the most fit and adventurous tourists only.

The ashes of LtCol. (Dr.) Sir E.E. “Weary” Dunlop who commanded a camp nearby were buried here.

map at Memorial

Construction of the cutting commenced on 25 April 1943. The excavation of soil and rock was carried out using 8 lb hammers, steel tap drills, explosives, pinch bars, picks, shovels and chunkels (a wide hoe). For a short time an air compressor and jack hammers were used. The bulk of the waste rock was removed by hand, using cane baskets and rice sacks slung on two poles. In an attempt to complete the section on schedule, for the six weeks leading up to its completion in mid-August, prisoners were forced to work 12 to 18 hour shifts around the clock, without a rest day. The Hellfire Pass section of the Burma–Thailand Railway cost the lives of at least 700 Allied POWs, including 69 beaten to death by Japanese engineers or Korean guards.

Nearby NamTok and Sai Yok:

A photo essay by Richard Barton (with permission of the author):

Below is a photo of the view of the Kwai Noi River taken in the Hintok/ Hellfire area. It is from a viewing point along the HellFire Pass trail. It is one of the more scenic points and it appears in many videos and presentations but is rarely identified.

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