75th anniversary of Thai–Burma railway completion

The sacrifice of Australian Prisoners of War (POWs) who worked on the Thai–Burma railway, including the notorious Hellfire Pass, almost 75 years ago, will be remembered today.


Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester will join four veterans, who were POWs, and encouraged all Australians to pause and reflect on the suffering and sacrifice of 12,500 Allied POWs who died while working on the railway.

“It is my honour to be here [ at the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat, Victoria] today, especially in the presence of four remarkable Australians who served in some of the most brutal conditions of the Second World War,” Mr Chester said.


“I cannot begin to imagine the circumstances these brave men endured while labouring on the 420 km long railway through a harsh terrain of jungles and mountains.”


Construction of the Thai–Burma railway began in October 1942, as the Japanese sought to maintain their armies in Burma. A workforce was assembled and by the time it was completed an estimated 270,000 Asian labourers and some 60,000 Allied POWs, including Australian, British, Dutch and American troops had worked on the line.


One of the most infamous sites along the Thai–Burma railway is Hellfire Pass, which was named for both the brutal conditions under which prisoners worked, and the eerie light thrown by bamboo fires as skeletal figures laboured by night, reminiscent to some of Dante’s Inferno. Tragically, more than 700 Australians died here.


“The POWs who worked on the Thai–Burma railway, including Hellfire Pass, suffered greatly, with shifts lasting for up to 18 hours a day during the most intense period,” Mr Chester said.


“Work at Hellfire Pass required drilling, blasting and digging through solid limestone and quartz rock, with prisoners expected to move one square metre of earth per day. After a week, this increased to three square metres per day.


“The railway was completed on 16 October 1943, but at an enormous human cost and today we remember the some 75,000 Asian labourers who died alongside the Allied prisoners while working on the railway and we honour the service and sacrifice of the some 12,500 Allied POWs who died, including more than 2,800 Australians.”


16 October 2018.