I have watched the movie, Bridge on the River Kwai, many times. It is a story of leadership and perseverance in the harshest of conditions. The late Sir Alec Guinness is one of my favourite actors whether in leadership role as Lt Col Nicholson for this movie, as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, as Prince Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia, or as the infamous Jock Sinclair in Tunes of Glory.
The problem is the movie was fiction based on an author who knew very little about the true incidents that occurred to build the Death Railway although he did suffer forced labour at the hands of the Japanese for two years as a POW. I now have a greater appreciation of the true story and the hardship endured.
Taxi to the Hotel
Our Favourite Eating Place
We stayed at a resort hotel with a small pool called the Sabi@kan. It was a chic little boutique hotel that provided breakfast in the morning and was only a 1km away from the Bridge on the River Kwai and more importantly next door to a little place that served cold beer and rented scooters. We didn’t rent the scooters but we certainly drank the beer. Peter, who is Danish, owns the little bar and scooter rental with his wife. He provided some good advice on what to see locally and the beer was only 59baht ($2.24) as takeaway for a 620ml bottle. We ended up hiring him to drive us to the Bangkok airport for 2200baht ($85.00CAD).
The Bridge on the River Kwai
The novel, written in French, by Pierre Boulle was based on his experience as a Prisoner of War for two years after being captured as a spy with the Free French in Singapore. He extrapolated his experiences and created the fictional account of the Bridge on the River Kwai. The funny thing was the river was actually the Mae Klong. By 1960, three years after the movie was released, the Government of Thailand renamed the river, to satisfy tourists, to the Khwae Yai (River Kwai). As a side note, he wrote a second novel, also in French, called the Planet of the Apes which became a major movie in 1968 with Charlton Heston.
Pierre Boulle received criticism from the survivors of the Death railway as he implied that the Lt Col in charge colluded with the Japanese which was not the case. The real Lt Col Philip Toosey led the POWs through arduous times maintaining morale of the troops as they were forced to build two railways – one of wood, which was destroyed, and another made of concrete and steel which survives today.
Rain washes away all the grime
The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
We went for a walk south of the Bridge and eventually found the War Cemetery. It has six thousand six hundred and five graves of soldiers from Britain, Australia and the Netherlands. It also includes another nations including 7 Canadians. The cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and is in very good repair. It does not include the estimated 200,000 asian workers who also died building the railroad.
I walked the grounds with Colleen and Hannah. We all noticed the young ages of those that did not survive. Hannah asked why I was stopping and taking photos. Many of the names were familiar as they were the same names of people I have worked with like Mills and Day. I have included a photo of three of the nine Foster‘s buried at the cemetery (no relation that I am aware) although they are likely distant cousins.
Riding the Death Railway to Nam Tok
We chose to spend the day taking the train to Nam Tok which is as far as it goes and then taxi to Hellfire Pass Monument and Museum. The train was crowded with tourists and locals.
Hellfire Pass Memorial and Museum
The museum is a small room that encompasses photos and a series of wall boards that tell the story of the building of the Death Railway. It also includes a video and some artefacts. The real adventure begins with the walk down the hill towards Hellfire Pass.
Kanchanaburi is a wonderful little town to visit and the story of the Death Railway is not to be missed. It speaks to harsh conditions and the perseverance of the human condition to overcome terrible obstacles. As we move closer to the 11th of November it is important to never forget those soldiers who fell in conflict….We will Remember them!