to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

9.4 Transportation

In his scholarly analysis of the deprivation and brutality of the overall treatment of the Allied POWs and romusha, Kyoichi (Section 6.4) points out the difficulties that the IJA support troops had in supplying the bare necessities to the POWs across SEA. This was specifically true on the TBR. The workers in the Thai sector up to about WangPo and those in the Burmese sector to about Km 80, experienced far less deprivation and starvation than those in the middle sector of the TBR.

This was mainly due to the presence of the Kwae Noi River and the supply point at its terminus at the walled city of Kanchanaburi. The story of Mr BoonPong and his efforts to assist the POWs is told in Section 21 of these essays. His fleet of boats and barges were quite extensive and his ability to deliver supplies to just past Hellfire Pass to about Hindat (Km200) was quite remarkable. But at this point the rail route turned inland away from the river as it rose into the highlands. It was in these highlands camps that the weather (monsoon season), the terrain and the distances took a major toll. Not that the workers on the lower portion of the line had any picnic but, things got worse and worse as the distance from the origin points in both sectors increased.

For the US contingent, we see a remarkable difference in the death rate between Fitzsimmons Party that worked mainly close in to Thanbyuzayat and the Tharp Party who worked in the Burmese highlands. For those on the Thai sector, the condition of the workers (both POWs and romusha) had deteriorated badly by the time those who worked at HellFire and beyond had arrived. As noted elsewhere, the completed railway itself was almost never used to transport workers nor basic supplies. It seemed reserved for railway construction materials. It wasn’t until early 1944, that POWs were transported via the railway back to the ChungKai and Kanchanaburi camps.

LtCol Toosey’s men were taken by truck from NongPladuc to Kanchanaburi in NOV 42 where they built the bridges. But just a few weeks later about 1500 Dutch made that 50 km trek on foot. Most of the later parties destine for the area beyond WangPo — both POW and romusha — walked from BanPong to their work point;a minimal distance of 150 kilometers.

The Burma sector had no such easy means of delivery. All supplies had to be carried overland. Sometimes by truck, sometimes using beast of burden and other times on the backs of the laborers themselves. POW survivors describe herding cattle along that trail in an effort to feed their compatriots.

All in all, as Kyoichi points out, the IJA Quartermaster units failed miserably at their job to push sufficient supplies of all sorts along there lines. As I pose in Section 28, would a smaller but healthier workforce have been able to accomplish the given task faster? Were the Japanese the ‘victims’ of having access to too many laborers that they stood no chance of sustaining at a proper level of nutrition and overall health? Could the death toll, particularly among the romusha, have been much lower if supplies had been more plentiful? Concepts for speculation only…

Perhaps the most of the unique TBR duties among the US personnel involved Flying Tiger Charles Mott. His story is told in Section 3.8 and was almost entirely related to transportation. In DEC 42, he was put in charge of 62 trucks that were to carry supplies at least as far as Kanchanaburi. Oddly enough these were American-made Ford and Chevy trucks that had been sent up from Singapore. Beyond that there were few roads and many times there were simply impassable so the boats and barges noted above were the primary haulers. He and a Sgt. Nomura oversaw 150 POWs who worked as drivers and mechanics at the NongPladuc camp. They nicknamed themselves “Mott Motors”. Mott cites that they could only successfully get supplies up to about the 125 Km mark — about Tarsoa and before HellFire Pass. He also describes moving later to what he calls the ‘POW general Headquarters area’ which I’d assume was Kanchanaburi. He fails to date that movement, but by JAN 1944 the POWs were being consolidated to Kanchanaburi.

Below is a story translated from the Thai news account of the 2013 discovery of one of these supply boats in a sandbar near Thong PhaPoom. That boat remains on display at the local temple:

World War II Ships Poke up in the middle of the River Kwai Noi ไทยรัฐออนไลน์

Thong Pha Phum villagers find ancient World War II boats made of timber, perfect condition In the middle of the Kwai Noi River It is expected that the Japanese soldiers used surveillance to take it out of the water at the temple so that the people could visit. …
According to local residents of Tha Khanun Thong Pha Phum, Kanchanaburi province found an ancient World War II boat submerged in the River Kwai Noi. The condition is intact, presumably a Japanese military vessel for surveillance purposes.

At 11:00 a.m. on July 20, 2013, Mr. Vijak Shinkotpong Sheriff Thongphaphum, Kanchanaburi Province, with Mr. Jirachai Tanomwong Mayor of Tha Khanun Mr. Country Boonyong The mayor of Thong Pha Phum has traveled to the Kwai Noi River area. Wat Prangasi Bridge Pier T.Tha Khanun Thongphaphum to investigate the matter. Mr. Vijak’s group found that many of the known villagers were attending to see the ship, and the condition of the ship was an ancient WWII wreck made of wood. The engine and steering wheel are intact. Flowers, incense, candles and 7 colors of fabric are brought to pay homage.

Ban Praangasi Tha Khanun Thong Pha Phum: The villagers who found the boat. It was revealed that on July 18, he, along with 10 friends, went fishing in the Kwai Noi River, and then, when he swam near the river, found a boat tail rising from the water near the rapids area above Ban Chanday on the River Kwai Noi and returned to tell the villagers to go to the ceremony to bring the boat up, with the boat sinking about 6 meters in the ground for about 3 meters from the surface.

Vijak said that from looking at the condition of the ship and asking those who found it, it was an ancient World War ship, which has one characteristic, The boat was in very good condition for having bee buried so long and was taken up to Wat Praangkasi for the public to see.