Kanchanaburi War Cemetery to Tong Pha Phum

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The Long Ride Home cycling along the Thai Burma Death Railway during the 75th anniversary year of the line’s completion - 1943-2018.

Route: Kanchanaburi War Cemetery to Tong Pha Phum, 135km.

Weather: Continuing light rain and humid conditions but a steady tailwind providing valuable assistance today.

Before relating highlights of the ride I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge another team about to tackle the railway for the same cause as ours. Antony Zahra, an-above-the-knee amputee, plans to walk on his crutches along the line from Three Pagoda Pass to Nong Pladuk over 25 days. Supporting him is ex-SASR vet Kev Otway and his Perth-based Warrior Racing Team. Antony aims to reach Kanchanaburi for the annual Anzac Day service there on April 25, a goal well within his capability given his record-breaking walk along the formidable Kokoda Track on crutches almost two years ago – see http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-12/homecoming-defence-veteran-one-leg-kokoda-track/7622728

My day 2 objective is the small town of Tong Pha Phum in the district of the same name. Tong Pha Phum is notable as a junction point at the halfway point on the Death Railway line from Nong Pladuk in Thailand to Thanbyuzayat in Burma (now Myanmar), a distance of 415km.

Riding out of Kanchanaburi I reflect on my visit to the town’s Death Railway Museum and Research Centre with its Australian founder/curator, Sir Rod Beattie OAM, MBE, an ex-Army Reservist whose work running the Commonwealth War Cemeteries in Thailand for 18 years and commitment to keeping the memory of the railway alive are themselves legendary. With a father and uncle who toiled as POWs on the railway as part of the infamous F Force and having twice walked the line myself I thought I had a reasonable knowledge of the line’s history. But a couple of hours with Sir Rod yesterday added a whole new dimension – see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nL4yR_U-yuQ and my museum and war graves interviews with Sir Rod.

Approaching one of the F Force camps on the River Kwai at Takanun brings back a flood of memories from my second walk in 2005 – the chat I had with a 95-year-old Thai woman who described how she defied execution to repeatedly smuggle food into the Australian POWs in their makeshift camp near Tong Pha Phum, and the Australian POW who related how he was almost bludgeoned to death by a Japanese guard who had taken a dislike to him and began hitting him with a barbed wire-capped pick handle. The POW believed a passing Japanese officer stopped the beating only because he somehow managed to throw him a bloodied salute as the blows rained down on him. Such was the brutality of the Japanese and Korean camp guards.

Residential and other developments have invaded much of the line but for those wanting to experience graphic stretches of original sections I would recommend the suitably named Hellfire Pass or the longer run from Nam Tok station (Sai Yok Noi) to Kanchanaburi, a distance of about 130km. A notable feature on that run includes the Wampo Viaduct, an impressive prisoner-built contruction that runs around the side of the mountain and is well worth a visit.

More than 85,000 forced Asian labourers and some 12,000 Allied POWs died in the construction of the line, giving rise to the popular local saying “a life for every sleeper”.

Additional information about F Force and the railway at https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/history/conflicts/thaiburma-railway-and-hellfire-pass/locations/camps-f-force.

Truck Sams On The Long Ride Home along the Thai Burma Death Railway.