SECRETS OF THE DEAD Bridge on the River Kwai                                                                         Page 2

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 New York NY 10001-2605

                                                        FACT SHEET
                          Thai-Burma DEATH RAILWAY and BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI

 From the impossible engineering and horrifying work conditions that defined its construction to the development of the
 bombs that ultimately dismantled it, the story of the Thailand-Burma railway is packed with unbelievable facts, a selection
 of which is presented below:

 The “Death Railway” stretched 260 miles from Thanbyuzayat in Burma to Nong Pladuk in the Bangpong district of
 Thailand’s Ratchaburi province. Bridge 277--the Bridge on the River Kwai--is a two-hour drive from Bangkok.

 Engineers estimated that it would take years to build the railway given the terrain through which it would pass. POWs and
 Asian laborers completed it in 14 months; the railway remained in operation for a mere 21 months.

 “Speedo” refers to a period, beginning in January 1943, of intensified labor and extreme brutality that commenced when
 the Japanese realized the railway was the only reliable way of supplying their frontline troop in Burma. Allied submarines
 and aircraft had severly hampered supply routes by sea.

 More than 100,000 Allied POWs and Asian laborers lost their lives building the railway--an average of 240 a day.

 Conditions varied from camp to camp, but generally, prisoners worked anywhere from 16 to 22 hours a day. Given the
 railway’s inaccessability, supplies were scarce. Rations, therefore, were insufficient and often virtually inedible (rotten
 vegetables, maggot-filled rice).

 Punishment--often inflicted for the smallest of offenses--was brutal. POWs remember savage beatings, being made to
 kneel on sharp sticks while holding a boulder for as long as three hours, and being tied to a tree with barbed wire and left
 there for days without food or water.

 More than 100 Japanese involved with the railway’s construction were eventually tried for war crimes.

 The famed Bridge on the River Kwai was actually two bridges. The Japanese first had their POWs construct a wooden
 bridge to carry light trains and construction materials up the railway. The more robust steel and concrete bridge came later.

SECRETS OF THE DEAD Bridge on the River Kwai                                                                        Page 2

The Thai-Burma railway wasn’t the only one built under harsh conditions by Allied POWs during World War II. Many
lives were lost in places like Sumatra, where other prisoners taken in the South Pacific hacked their way through
unforgiving jungle and battled malaria while trying to lay down tracks for the Axis powers.

The Allies owe their successful bombing of the railway partly to happenstance. In late 1944, a United States submarine
accidentally sank a Japanese troop ship, unaware that the ship also carried 1,300 Allied POWs who had worked on the
railway. The Navy rescued 150 of the POWs, who provided the first accurate information about strategic targets.

The POWs who built the railway represented all the Allied countries. British and Australians had been captured from
the surrender at Singapore, while the Dutch were taken prisoner during Japanese campaigns against their colonies in the
East Indies. Many of the Americans were survivors of the U.S.S. Houston, sunk off Sumatra in February 1942, or
members of an all-Texas National Guard unit that had been sent to assist the Dutch on Java but were captured in March

Cultural differences occasionally led to fights among the POWs.

No medic kits were available to POWs, though the Japanese sometimes supplied small amounts of quinine to combat
malaria. Allied medics mainly relied on barter trade with local Thais and Burmese as well as their own ingenuity to
provide the most basic hospital treatments.

Cholera could take a life in less than 24 hours; men who woke up healthy were dead by 10 p.m.

The Thai government had agreed to let the Japanese build the railway in their country, but reportedly, many Thai people
who saw the horror of what was going on did what they could to help the POWs. Even the mayor of Thailand’s
Kanchanaburi province, some remember, smuggled medicine, tobacco and cash to the prisoners.

Sources: Hellfirepass.com; scottmurray.com; far-eastern-heroes.org.uk; bmw.ukf.net/3pagodas; cnn.com;
panorama.co.th; home.vicnet.au.


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Debra Falk                              Caroline Oman
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212.560.3013                            212.560.3057
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