The Long Ride Home is back on the road again after riding preparations during 2017 for a 1200 Kilometre journey from Chiang Rai to Nong Khai Thailand following the Laos Thai border and the Mighty Mekong River.
With the 75th Anniversary of the construction of the Thai Burma Death Railway on the doorstep in 2018, I’m now in preparations for the retracing of my father Pte. William Sams and uncle Pte. John Butt’s footsteps from Singapore to Thanbyuzayat in Burma as part of the anniversary.
I’ve walked the 335 km journey twice starting from Changi Prison Singapore to the Three Pagoda Pass in Thailand leading a Malaysian Commando Expedition in 2002 and in 2005 with an Australian Expedition accompanied by two former SAS soldiers Ron Fossen and Paul Billsborough.
In 2018 I will cycle the complete 2,500 km journey that the POWs had to endure from Singapore’s Changi Prison to Thanbyuzayat Burma via the Commonwealth War Graves in Kanchanaburi, The Australian War Memorial Museum at Hellfire Pass and the Malay Force Labourer’s Hamlet in the same area.
As Prisoners of War, my father, uncle and other POWs had to endure the pain and agony at the hands of their Japanese captors in the infamous Singapore’s Changi Prison after being captured in Malaysia during the fall of Singapore, later to be sent North to Thailand locked in steel rail box carts with other POWs over a two thousand kilometer torturous journey to Ban Pong Thailand the Southern Death Railway construction point. My uncle was shipped North by sea to the Northern construction point at Thanbyuzayat Burma.
After the war they both learnt that they were only 6 km apart in different POW camps, my father in a construction camp near the Thai Burma border after enduring a 315 km forced March to get there and my uncle in a similar work camp just inside the Thai Burma border on the Burmese side and later as part of the construction crew on the bridge on the River Kwai.
Japan was supplying its troops by ships on a two thousand mile journey southward around the Malay Peninsula, and it was losing those ships to attacks by US submarines. Instead of supplying its troops in Burma by ships, the Japanese decided to build a railway from Bangkok to Rangoon Burma through dense jungle, using Japanese engineers and an abundance of prisoner-of-war labor plus the labor of local people. The prisoners-of-war were taken north to Thailand in ships under conditions similar to the "hell ships" that carried American prisoners from the Philippines to Japan
After the main railway bridge was built over the River Mae Klong ("Bridge on River Kwai" in the movie) the laborers were put to work cutting through jungle and laying track. The building of the railway was progressing too slowly for the Japanese, and Tokyo ordered more speed. The Japanese in Burma were suffering from a shortage of labor at the same time that they were reducing their labor supply through mistreatment and lack of care. Guards beat prisoner-doctors who were trying to protect ill men from being dragged back to work. An estimated 13,000 prisoners of war died from disease, sickness, starvation and brutality. And 80,000 Asian labourers also died.
I am hoping that the long ride home will yet again honour those who died during the construction of the death railway and also the many who suffered from PTSD such as my father and uncle after returning home from their captivity during 1942 to 1946.
The Long Ride Home continues to bring global awareness of PTSD suffering amongst our veterans and the wider community.
Truck Sams, The Long Ride Home, in Northern Thailand
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