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The Bridge Over the River Kwae

The Bridge over the River Kwae was built during the Great Pacific War when Japan declared war on the United States of America and England, later became a part of World War II.  The bridge was begun in October 2485 B.E. (1942 A.D) and completed in October, 2486 B.E. (1943 A.D.)  On 16th September, 2485 B.E. (1942 A.D.) the Japanese army signed the contract with the Thai government to build this strategic railway from Thailand to Burma (Now Mynmar).  The railway started from Nongpladuk station about 5 kilometers from Banpong railway station, and it crossed the River Kwae at Ban Thamakham in Muang district of Kanchanaburi province.  (In those days the place was called “Ban Tha Maa Kham” meaning “horses crossing”.)  The railway was laid northward passing through Kanchanaburi for about 4 kilometers along the River Kwae Yai, and at the bridge it made a sharp curve going along with the River Kwae Noi passing through the Thai-Burmese border at Three Padogas Pass connecting the Burmese railway at Thanbyuzayat station.  The total length of the railway was 415 kilometers: 303.95 kilometers in Thailand and 111.05 kilometers in Burma.  The prisoners of war taken from Malaya, Singapore, Indonesia and other countries in the Pacific region were forced to build the railway.  They were put on the train in the south and got off at Bangpong station.  They had to walk for 51 kilometers to get to kanchanburi.  The prisoners of war comprised British, Australian, Dutch soldiers as well as Malay, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Burmese, Javanese labourers totaling nearly two hundred thousand.  The railway construction was very laborious and difficult as it had to go through thick jungles and high mountains, and dangerous animals were everywhere.  The most difficult part was that they had to build the bridge over the River Kwae.  The arduous task continued all days and nights amidst hunger and dangerous disease like malaria.  The brutality of the war took over 100,000 lives of prisoners of war and laborers.  Hence, the railway was, “The Death Railway.”

The Japanese army chose to build the bridge at Thamakham because the soil structure was solid and suitable.  To speed up the work, the Japanese army built a temporary wooden bridge about 100 meters from the present one to transport construction materials.  It took three months to complete.  The present iron bridge spans were brought from Indonesia.  The 300 meter bridge consist of 11 iron spans and the other parts were made of wood.  The total construction time was only 6 months, and the total distance was 415 kilometers.  The official opening date for the railway was 28th November, 2486 B.E. (1943 A.D).  The wooden bridge was later dismantled as it blocked the water way  During the war, the Bridge over the River Kwae was heavily bombarded by the allied planes.  The spans 4 – 6 were damaged and unable to operate.  Finally, Japan surrendered on 15th August 2488 B.E (1945 A.D.).  After the war was over, the British government sold the railway and all railway related materials to the Thai government at the price of 50 million baht.  Later, the State Railway of Thailand repaired the bridge and replaced it with two iron spans and the 6 wooden parts were replaced by iron spans as well.  The bridge has been in use up to the present time.   

                                                                                                                    Kachanburi Municipality


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