At the Start of the Death Railway

The entrance to the Death Railway memorial in Thanbyuzayat, Mon State. (Photo: Kyaw Hsu Mon / The Irrawaddy)

The entrance to the Death Railway memorial in Thanbyuzayat, Mon State. (Photo: Kyaw Hsu Mon / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — After watching “The Bridge On the River Kwai,” the award-winning film, as a child, I always wanted to visit the place where the Death Railway begins in Burma.

The railroad, which stretches from Thanbyuzayat Township in Mon State to Thailand’s Kanchanaburi District, was built during World War II by allied prisoners of war, including Burmese soldiers, who were forced to work by the Japanese empire.

More than 16,000 prisoners of war died during the construction, or about 38 prisoners for every kilometer of the 415-kilometer railway. With little or no medical care, they succumbed to sickness, malnutrition and exhaustion. Many suffered horribly before their death.

At the Death Railway memorial in Thanbyuzayat, an old steam locomotive is a reminder to decades long ago. A damaged statue of a standing soldier can also be seen, its upper body lying in the grass. Though the railway started here, only a small strip of tracks remain. At the end of it, a large concrete signboard reads, “Myanmar-Thailand-Japanese death railway line starts here.”

The Burmese government has failed to attract many tourists to the site. By contrast, in

Thailand, hundreds of people go every day to Kanchanaburi to see the famous bridge that opened in 1988. In Mon State, it seems no maintenance has been done, and the potential tourist attraction has been neglected. I hope it can be developed so that more people can visit soon.

If you do go to Thanbyuzayat, you can also stop at a war cemetery thousands of allied soldiers were buried between 1939 and 1945. A record at the cemetery says, “The land on which this cemetery stands is the gift of the Burmese people for the perpetual resting place of the sailors, soldiers and airmen who are honored here.”

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