The Burma-Siam Railway The notorious Burma-Siam railway built by British Australian Dutch and American prisoners of war was a Japanese project inspired by the need for improved communications to maintain the large Japanese army in Burma. During its construction more than 16,000 prisoners of war died-mainly of sickness malnutrition and exhaustion-and were buried along the railway. Imprest Burmese and Malay labourers too died in their thousands— exactly how many will never be known. The Japanese kept no records and it was impossible for anyone else to do so nor were the graves marked but between 80000 and 100,000 perished. The railway has been purchased by the Thai Government from its starting point at Ban Pong (or Bampong) to the Burmese border and it is now part of the Royal State railways. It is open to general traffic from Ban Pong to Kanchanaburi about 53 kilometres. Japanese communications depended upon along and exposed sea route to Rangoon via Singapore and the Strait of Malacca and a road (quite unfit for prolonged heavy traffic) from Raheng through Kowkareik to Moulmein. The decision to complete the railway connecting Moulmein to Bangkok which had been commenced before the war but abandoned by the two countries concerned was taken in June 1942. More than 400 kilometres of railway from Thanbyuzayat in Burma to Ban Pong in Thailand remained to be constructed much of it through mountainous country and dense jungle in a region with one of the worst climates in the world. The Japanese aimed at completing the railway in 14 months or at least by the end of 1943. They utilised a labour force composed of prisoners of war taken in the campaigns in South-East Asia and the Pacific and coolies brought from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies or conscripted in Siam and Burma. From June 1942 onwards large groups of prisoners were transferred periodically to Thailand and Burma from Java Sumatra and Borneo. Two forces one based in Thailand and one in Burma worked from opposite ends of the line towards the centre. When the first of the prisoners arrived their initial task was the construction of camps at Kanchanaburi and Ban Pong in Thailand and Thanbyuzayat in Burma. Accommodation for the Japanese guards had to be built first and at all the staging camps built subsequently along the railway this rule applied. The cook-house and huts for the working parties came next and accommodation for the sick last of all. Frequently men were sent to work on the line long before their accommodation was completed. Ui
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