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Category: Battles/WW2

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Bridge on the River Kwai

Tamarkan, Thailand. c. 1945. 

Train crossing the wooden bridge which spanned the Mae Klong River (renamed Kwai Yai River in 1960).

Begun in October 1942, using prisoner of war (POW) labour, it was completed and operational by early February 1943. 

Both the wooden and the adjacent steel bridge were subjected to numerous air raids between January and June 1945. POW labour was used to repair the wooden bridge on each occasion. Tamarkan is fifty five kilometres north of Nong Pladuk (also known as Non Pladuk), or five kilometres north of Kanchanaburi. (Donor A. Mackinnon)
Tamarkan, Thailand. c. October 1945. 

Located fifty five kilometres north of Nong Pladuk (also known as Non Pladuk), 359 kilometres south of Thanbyuzayat, and five kilometres north of Kanchanaburi (Kanburi). 

The photograph shows the two bridges built by the Japanese, using prisoner of war (POW) labour, which spanned the Mae Klong river (renamed Kwa Yai river in 1960).The wooden trestle bridge was completed in February 1943, and the steel bridge in April 1943. 

This eleven span bridge had been dismantled by the Japanese and brought to Tamarkan from Java in 1942. Both bridges wee subjected to numerous attacks by Allied aircraft during the period December 1944 to June 1945. One span of the steel bridge was destroyed in a raid mid February 1945. Two more spans were dropped during raids between April and June 1945. (cont'd below)

Aerial photograph of the Bridge over the River Kwai, Thailand, severely damaged by aerial bombing.

The Bridge on the River Kwai, the movie

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), the memorable, epic World War II adventure/action, anti-war drama, was the first of director David Lean's major multi-million dollar, wide-screen super-spectaculars (his later epics included Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965)).

The screenplay was based upon French author Pierre Boulle's 1954 novel of the same name. [Boulle was better known for his screenplay for Planet of the Apes (1963).] Although he received sole screenplay credit, other deliberately uncredited, blacklisted co-scripting authors (exiled Carl Foreman - who scripted High Noon (1952) - and Michael Wilson) had collaborated with him, but were denied elibigility. They were post-humously credited years later, in late 1984, in a special Academy ceremony. [When the film was restored, the names of Wilson and Foreman were added to the credits.]

Film still
Col. Shears (Alec Guinness) in The Bridge on the River Kwai.
[The film's story was loosely based on a true World War II incident, and the real-life character of Lieutenant Colonel Philip Toosey. One of a number of Allied POW's, Toosey was in charge of his men from late 1942 through May 1943 when they were ordered to build two Kwai River bridges in Burma (one of steel, one of wood), to help move Japanese supplies and troops from Bangkok to Rangoon.

 In reality, the actual bridge took 8 months to build (rather than two months), and they were actually used for two years, and were only destroyed two years after their construction - in late June 1945. The memoirs of the 'real' Colonel Nicholson were compiled into a 1991 book by Peter Davies entitled The Man Behind the Bridge.]

The film was the number one box-office success of the year (the highest grossing film) and it won critical acclaim as well - eight Academy Award nominations and seven Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Alec Guinness), Best Director, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Pierre Boulle), Best Cinematography, Best Score, and Best Film Editing. 

Only Sessue Hayakawa, a former silent screen star and one of the first important Asian stars, who was nominated for his Best Supporting Actor role as the hot-tempered Japanese colonel, lost. The film created an additional stir when it debuted on ABC television on September 25, 1966. The date was dubbed "Black Sunday" due to the loss of business at movie theatres on account of its popular airing.

Cont'd. Tamarkan POW camp was located adjacent to both the bridges and a nearby Japanese anti-aircraft battery. It also suffered during these air raids, the worst being on 29 November 1944. During this attack on the Ack Ack battery, three bombs overcarried and demolished the top ends of POW huts 1 and 2, burying a number of the occupants. 

The POW casualties numbered nineteen killed and sixty eight wounded. During a four hour attack on the bridges and Ack Ack battery on 5 February 1945, a further fifteen POWs were injured. The camp site was littered with great fragments of shrapnel, and one hut and the canteen were burnt to the ground. On 14 February 1945, the Japanese evacuated the remaining POWs to the Chungkai camp which was located approximately two kilometres north on Kanchanaburi, on the bank of the River Kwai Noi. 

Photographed by the War Graves Commission survey party whose task was to located POW cemeteries and grave sites along the Burma-Thailand railway. They also took the opportunity to recover equipment and documents, which had been secretly buried, under instructions from senior POW officers, in the graves of deceased POWS. (Donor B. Evans)

Wampo (Wang Po), Thailand. c. September 1945. 

The Wampo tiered viaduct built along the edge of the Kwai Noi River. 

The two main viaducts followed the bottom of the cliff for some distance. A ledge had to be carved out of the cliff face to form a base for the bridge and embankment construction. 

It was a dangerous and exhausting task for the POW work force. Wampo is approximately 114 kilometres north of Nong Pladuk (also known as Non Pladuk), or 300 kilometres south of Thanbyuzayat. (Donor A. Mackinnon)
Kanchanaburi, Thailand, 1973. 

A memorial plaque erected on the southern bank of the River Kwai, at one end of the bridge which was built over the river by allied prisoners-of-war (POWs) and Asian labourers from various countries. 

The inscription on the plaque reads: "Thai-Burma Railway Line. 

1. During the Second World War the Japanese Army constructed a military railway line branching off the southern line at Nong Pladuk (also known as Non Pladuk) Station, Km.64+196. 

This line crossed over the River Kwae Yai at Kanchanaburi, traversed along the bank of Kwae Noi River, cut across the Thai-Burma border at Chedi Sam Ong, continued on into Burma and joined the Burma railway line at Thanbyuzayat. The total length of line constructed was 419 kms., being in Thailand 303.95 kms. and in Burma 111.05 kms. 

2. Construction work started in October 1942. A year later on 23 October 1943 rail laying was completed. About 60,000 men consisting of Indian, Burmese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Chinese and Thai labourers as well as prisoners of war took part in the construction work. 

3. The diesel power traction car shown here was used during the construction. It could be run either on road or railway track. The road wheels would be lowered into position when required. The steam locomotive shown was employed for military transport service on this line. 

Wampo (Wang Po), Thailand. 21 October 1945. 

Wampo is approximately 114 kilometres north of Nong Pladuk, or 300 kilometres south of Thanbyuzayat. 

A diesel rail car passing over the long trestle bridge commonly known as the Wampo viaduct. 

This tiered viaduct was built along the edge of the Kwai Noi river. The two main sections of the viaduct followed the bottom of the cliff for some distance. 

A ledge had to be carved out of the cliff face to form a base for the bridge and embankment construction. It was a dangerous and exhausting task for the prisoner of war (POW) work force. Wampo is approximately 114 kilometres north of Nong Pladuk (also known as Non Pladuk), or 300 kilometres south of Thanbyuzayat. Strengthened and rebuilt to the original design in the post-war years, the viaduct forms part of the railway which is still operational as far as Namtok (Tarsau).

4. In speeding up construction work the Japanese Army built a temporary railway bridge across the River Kwae Yai downstream close to the existing bridge. After completion of the existing bridge composing of 11 steel spans with the rest of timber spans, the temporary bridge was dismantled to ease off river traffic inconvenience. Three steel spans nos. 4, 5, 6 were damaged by allied bombing during the war period. After taking over the line the State Railway of Thailand replaced the three damaged spans with two steel spans and changed all timber spans at the far end with six steel spans. 

5. When the war come [sic] to an end in 1945 the British Army dismantled 3.95 kms. of track at the Thai-Burma border. The remaining length of 300 kms. was handed over to the State Railway of Thailand in 1947. With due and careful consideration in regard to transport economic as well as other aspects, the State Railway of Thailand was authorised to dismantle the track from the end of the line to Nam Tok Station and to upgrade the remaining length of 130.204 kms. to Nong Pladuk Station conforming to operational permanent way standard. Subsequently, the section between Nong Pladuk and Kanchanaburi Stations was officially opened to traffic on 24 June 1949, between Kanchanaburi and Wang Pho Stations on 1 April 1952 and the last section from Wang Pho to Nam Tok Stations on 1 July 1958. 

State Railway of Thailand. (Donor C. Scriven)

Burma-Thailand Railway. 

c. February 1943. 

Allied prisoners of war (POWs) engaged in bridge building at Tamarkan, fifty five kilometres north of Nong Pladuk (also known as Non Pladuk) and five kilometres south of Kanchanaburi (Kanburi). 

 

The scaffolding, made from bamboo, is at the site of the eleven span steel bridge which was completed in April 1943. It, together with a wooden bridge approximately 100 kilometres downstream, spanned the Mae Klong river (renamed Kwai Yai river in 1960).
Tamarkan, Thailand. c. September 1945. 

A view of Tamarkan prisoner of war (POW) camp showing rows of huts with thatched attap roofs and open walls. 

Tamarkan camp was adjacent to the two bridges which spanned the Mae Klong River (renamed Kwai Yai River in 1970). It is 

fifty five kilometres north of Nong Pladuk (also known as Non Pladuk) and five kilometres north of Kanchanaburi. Photographed by the War Graves Commission survey party whose task was to locate POW cemeteries and grave sites along the Burma-Thailand railway. They also took the opportunity to recover equipment and documents which had been secretly buried, under instructions from senior POW officers, in the graves of deceased POWs. (Donor L. Cody)
Chungkai (Kao Poon), Thailand. September 1945. 

Approximately two kilometres north of Kanchanaburi (Kanburi) on the bank of the Kwai Noi river.

Temporary wooden crosses on the graves of Allied soldiers (prisoners of war (POWs)) in the Chungkai cemetery.

 

There were two cemeteries, one with 1,500 graves and one with 168 graves. Those Australians who had been buried in these two cemeteries, were exhumed and reburied in the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery towards the end of 1945. The Chungkai War Cemetery is located in exactly the same site as used for POW burials between 1943 and 1945. (Donor B. Leemon)
 

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