17th October 2018 being the official 75th Anniversary of the completion of the Burma-Thailand Railway has just passed with a service organised at the Australian War Memorial Museum Hellfire Pass Kanchanaburi by the Australian Embassy Thailand and a sunset service administered by the British Embassy Thailand.
Out of left field due to a huge personal commitment and being part of the Seoul Olympic Skydiving Exhibition Teams’ Path of Excellence Award presented by the International Skydiving Museum and Hall of Fame in the USA has taken up a much of my time during the last 3 months thus delaying the ride from Singapore to Myanmar during the 75th Anniversary events in Thailand.
However, all was not lost with the Australia Embassy Thailand extending an invitation to attend as a guest speaker at the Hellfire Pass service held on the afternoon of the 17th October.
In attendance; His Excellency Paul Robilliard, Australian Ambassador to Thailand and Defence Staff Australia, Netherlands , United Kingdom, The United States Defence representatives , Officials heads of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Australia & United Kingdom, and Thai General Commanding Officer for the district, Staff and a Thai military ceremony party laying wreaths on the day.
Squadron Leader Don Wilson the official master of ceremony got things going with the local Thai Military doing as they always do in support of Australia including playing of the last post, reveille and raising / lowering the flags of those nations who participated during the Burma-Thailand construction 75 years ago.
A fantastic opening speech by His Excellence Paul Robilliard Ambassador to Thailand whose father served with the Indian Regiments in Burma under the British command during WW2.
My speech was specifically based on the hardships of my father William (Bill) Sams and Uncle John (Jack) Butt both members of the 2/26 Australian Infantry Battalion of which formed F Force sent to Thailand from Singapore.
F Force then endured a force march of another 300 kilometers in a very short time via a muddy jungle track at night North before working under extreme conditions by their Japanese captors during the construction of the railway in the area of the Thai Burma border at the Three Pagoda Pass.
An extract from my speech;
“ There’s no doubt the fact that Dad and Uncle Jack were bushies played a big part in their survival, but, they suffered terribly “
“ They talked about malnutrition, dysentery, the increased work hours, ‘Speedo Time’ imposed on them by the Japanese and the interminable beatings they were dished out to keep the poor sods at work.”
“ Like many others, Dad came down with Beri-Beri and a very bad tropical ulcer on one of his legs meant - his mates had to use a spoon to scoop the poisoned flesh out to keep him going - I can still image that terrible scar on his leg to this very day.”
“ But they got through it and made it home only to be hit by depressive symptoms we now recognise as post traumatic stress disorder PTSD.”
“ I well remember Dad’s fits of anger, especially if anything threatened the family as though he was protecting his mates on the railway.”
“ Him sitting night after night in a dark room as if in a defensive position cursing his captors.” “ Dad died relatively young at 56 but uncle Jack made it into his 70s.”
“ Although a introverted and very lonely man right to the very end he reckons the Beri Beri took my dad, having weakened his heart all those years before.”
“ I’m not ashamed to say that I suffered effects after my time in the Vietnam war, as so many of my mates from then, and since are battling its effects.”
“ But it is those memories of my father and uncle that I recall to this very day.”
“We are here today during the 75th Anniversary of the railway completion to honour all those men who paid the ultimate sacrifice during that time here and to also salute those who survived and individually dealt with their own scars of war.”
The sunset service later held at the Commonwealth War Graves in Kanchanaburi was somewhat different to the Anzac Day ceremonial service that I’m used of but was special in its own British way.
-Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, KG, GCV
-Khun Princess Sirikitiya Jensen a member of the Thai Royal Family, Niece of the current King of Thailand and daughter of Princess Ubol Ratana Rajakanya and American Peter Ladd Jensen,
-His Excellency Paul Robilliard Australian Ambassador to Thailand and Defence Staff,
-Heads of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Australia and The United Kingdom,
-The Netherlands Government representatives, and
-Members of the Royal British Legion to Thailand.
A small and subtle service held by the British set the scene with the sounds of the drums and bagpipes setting the British tone for the ceremony as the sun set over the mountains with Burma to the West and the River Kwai a very short distances away.
For those that saw the fictional movie “The Bridge Over The River Kwai“ the only thing missing during the service was the tune to the Colonel Bogey March synonymous to the British POWs who served on the railway line.
However instead of the movie character an American Commando played by William Holden who originally escaped only to be sent back on a covert mission to blow up the bridge over the River Kwai both services today saw an attendance of three US Special Forces soldiers representing the USA to lay a wreath in particular at Hellfire Pass in remembrance of all POWs who died but also paying respect to those 133 American whose bodies were repatriated back to the USA at the end of WW2.
A very important day in Thailand during the 75th Anniversary commemorating the end of the Burma-Thailand Railway construction line 17th October 1943.
Truck Sams on The Long Ride Home