Throughout the building of the railway food supplies were irregular and totally inadequate. Brought up by barge on the Kwai Noi river or by lorry on a road which was merely a converted jungle track a consistent service could not be maintained by either method and rations were nearly always below even the Japanese official scales. Vegetables and other perishables long in transit arrived rotten. The rice was of poor quality frequently maggoty orin other ways contaminated and fish meat oil salt and sugar were on a minimum scale. Although it was often possible to supplement this diet by purchases from the local civilian population men sometimes had to live for weeks on litde more than a small daily ration of rice flavoured with salt. Red Cross parcels helped but these were invariably upheld by the Japanese. Malaria dysentery and pellagra (a vitamin deficiency disease) attacked the prisoners and the number of sick in the camps was always high. The Japanese demanded from each camp a certain percentage of its strength for working parties irrespective of the number of sick and to makeup the required quota the Japanese camp commandants insisted on men totally unfit for work being driven out and sometimes carried out. Those who stayed behind were accommodated in camp “hospitals” which were simply one or more crude jungle huts. At main camps such as Chungkai Tamarkan Non Pladuk and Thanbyuzayat were “base hospitals” which were also huts of bamboo and thatch staffed by such medical officers and orderlies as were allowed by the Japanese to care for the sick prisoners. To these base hospitals desperately sick men—the weak supported by the less weak since no fit men were allowed to accompany them—were evacuated from the camp hospitals, travelling by the haphazard means of hitch-hiking on a passing lorry or river barge. At both camp and base hospitals for the greater part of the time the doctors had only such drugs and equipment as they had been able to carry with them. Neither drugs nor surgical instruments were supplied by the Japanese and although later on certain medical supplies were made available they were always inadequate. A great deal of equipment was improvised by the medical officers and orderlies and food and medicines were clandestinely obtained. Only the devotion skill and enterprise of the prisoner of war medical staffs saved the lives of thousands and gradually evolved an organisation which could control disease and mortality. Work on the railway started at Thanbyuzayat on 1st October 1942 and somewhat later at Ban Pong. The two parties met at Nieke in November 1943 and the line-429 kilometres long— was completed by December. Thereafter work on the railway consisted of maintenance and repairs to damage caused by Allied bombing. Repeated reconnaissance overflights the Burma end of the railway started early in 1943 followed by bombings at intervals. These became more and more frequent when towards the end of October 1943, trains full of Japanese troops and supplies began togo through from Thailand to Burma. The Japanese would not allow the prisoners to construct a symbol (a white triangle on a blue base) indicating the presence of a prisoner of war camp and these raids added their iv
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