The Long Ride Home training ride along the Thai Burma Death Railway during the 75th anniversary year of the line’s completion - 1943-2018.
Route: Tong Pha Phum to Upper Songkurai (Kami Songkurai) via Lower Songkurai (Shimo Songkurai), my father’s POW camps close to the famed Three Pagoda Pass.
Weather: No rain today but intense rainforest humidity and little wind.
Day 3 objective: To finish my training ride at Upper Sonkurai then return to the Suphunburi and Hua Hin regions for further training until my big Thai Burma Death Railway ride from Singapore to Myanmar in September/October this year.
Plenty of rolling hills to cope with today but some wonderful scenery through this beautiful Thai national park and glimpses of the giant Khao Laem Dam.
With directions provided by Sir Rod Beattie at the Thai Death Railway Museum and Research Centre in Kanchanaburi I was able to establish the exact location of my father’s camp, which I’ve passed on many trips up here before but have never been able to properly locate given encroaching farmland and lost sections of the original railway line. This time I’ve also been able to find other old F Force camps, including one just below an escarpment that yielded up WW2 tunnels built by the Japanese and shown to me by locals during my 2005 walk along the line.
Research by Sir Rod found the tunnels to be part of a defensive system that included machine gun emplacements covering the pass and providing interlocking fire across the valley to my fathers POW camp, just in case exhausted prisoners found the will and energy to try an escape. On my 2005 walk I was able to photograph the inscriptions on the earlier visit and have included some in this blog.
Around the area of Shimo Songkurai was the infamous Cholera Hill known for the deadly disease that wiped out so many POWs and Rimusha on the line during 1943. Lack of proper food, over work, poor hygiene and deplorable camp conditions especially in the wet season brought on high levels of dysentery, malaria, typhoid – and the deadly blue death disease.
So, three days after setting out I stand on an overgrown stretch of line at Upper Songkurai and reflect on the pain and sorrow the POWs and their Asian forced labourer co-worker colleagues had to endure 75 years ago, my late father and an uncle among them. I can remember the deep tropical ulcer scar on Dad’s leg from those times, and his medical records show he suffered from heart-weakening beriberi disease from lack of vital vitamins in their boiled onion and rice diet. Dad also came down with PTSD on his return to Australia, and was stuck down by a heart attack during family holidays in Goondiwindi 1963. He was 56 years of age.
Uncle Jack lived into his 70's but deteriorated suffering from PTSD as well.
Extra information on the ordeal of these F Force soldiers can be viewed at https://driandemellow.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/the-battalion-story-of-the-2-26-infantry-battalion/ and http://www.2-26bn.org/fforce.html.
Truck Sams at the close of The Long Ride Home training ride along the Thai Burma Death Railway, Thailand.