Day 1: The way to Kanchanaburi

We knew it as Kamburi a small town where two rivers met. It was built as a fortress to hold off invading Burmamese armies which came down through the Three Pagodas Pass and followed the valley of the Kwai Noi down to the Thai heartland.

tourpicture2.jpgToday it is a sizeable town, bustling with tourists during the cooler season and at the week-ends.

On the 130 km bus ride from Bangkok we pass Nakhon Pathom and the tallest Buddhist temple in the world. After the railway had been built there was a hospital camp near here for 8,000 sick and maimed men. The camp has gone. We will see more of the temple on the return journey.

The first stop will be at the Allied War Cemetery The caretaker, Rod Beattie, will be thereto help you find special graves. It would help if you have names and serial numbers.

There are 6,982 graves in the cemetery, 1,362 of them Australian. There are 3,547 British, 1,896 Dutch. 110 Malayan, 12 Indian, 3 Canadian, one Burmese, 35 unknown and one non-war grave.

The cemetery is one of three for the 13,000 POWs who died on the railway. There is a second at Chungkai, across the river only a few kilometres away.

The 1,375 graves there include 1,329 British, 313 Dutch, 42 Malayan, six Indian and 50 unknown.

The third cemetery is at the Burmese end of the railway, at ‘Thanbyuzayat.  There are 1,702 British graves, 1,348 Australian, 99 from other Common¬wealth countries and another 621, mostly Dutch.

The bodies of some 3-50 Americans who died on the railway were shipped home after the war..

The main tourist attraction at Kanchanaburi now is the so-called Bridge on the River Kwai. In fact, the bridge in French writer Pierre Bouille’s story about an obstinate British colonel was only a figment of his imagination. The fictional location was up near the Burma border.

According to the maps of our day the railway crossed what was known as the Mae Khlong River before dipping down to follow the Kwai Nor (Little Kwai) valley.  But with so many people looking for a bridge made famous by Alec Guinness and William Holden in the David Lean film, the Thai Tourist Authority resurrected the old name, Kwai Yai (Big Kwai), for the upper reaches of the Mae Khlong. The tourists have their “Bridge on the River Kwai”. Our journey, from now on, follows the banks of the Kwai Nor, the vital supply line on the Thai side of the railway.

Two bridges crossed the river near Kanchanaburi. One was a wooden structure 300 yards down¬stream from the steel bridge, which was brought from Java and completed three months later.

British and American planes bombed both bridges but it was not until two months before the end of the war that they were finally put out of action.  The Japanese repaired the steel bridge as war reparation, replacing the three central arches with two box girder spans.

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