The other Thai Burma Railway

Chumphon Railway Station

Chumphon Railway Station

The Japanese built two railways to support their supply of war material into Burma – the first attempt – the shorter line – was the 90 kilometre long Chumphon to Kra Isthmus line. The terminus was the village of Ban Khao Fa Chi on the river La- Un
From here goods were transferred to barges and small river vessels for trans shipment to the River Kra and thence to Ranong and onwards to Victoria Point, the southern most point in Burma. Today Victoria Point in named Kaw Thaung ( Ko Song to the Thais). There has always been historical trade links between the these areas of Thailand (Siam) and Myanmar (Burma).

The Japanese had planned their invasion of S.E . Asia very carefully. Spies had been active for years mapping the land and noting significant locations of military importance. Chumporn was one of several landing sites chosen for one of several fleets of troop and supply ships (disguised as civilian vessels) which set sail from Hainan Island well before the first bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor.

Due to the war, Chumphon on the Gulf of Thailand, was transformed froma sleepy sea side resort into a large railway depot- a major Japanese controlled railway hub.

Outside the station are several plinthed locomotives. This is a 4-6-0 build in England (1919)

Outside the station are several plinthed locomotives. This is a 4-6-0 build in England (1919)

Today’s large station, numerous colonial style railway officials houses and wooden store houses are testiment to the material throughput of the Japanese, who also installed ( still existing) marshaling yards, engineering workshops, water systems for steam engines  -all to service their long planned new railway spur to the Andaman Sea. Today there are several plinthed locomotives outside the station – although these are more to do with Thai pride than wartime association.

The battle at Chumphon.

The Japanese landing here encountered resistance from the Sriyapha High School  Junior Soldiers under the command of a regular army officer, Colonel Thawin Niyomsaen who put up stout resistance at the Tha Nang Sang Bridge. The Colonel fell, and the fight continued to the Wat Tha Yang Tai , the students now under command of  fellow student Sergeant Samran Kuanphan. After eight hours of fighting Bangkok agreed a cease fire which was with difficulty passed to the front at Chumphon. Note: Chumphon National Museum at Chumphon Governmental Center has a display covering the WW2 action at Chumphon

Thailand joins with Japan in her fight against the allies

The ceasefire was followed by an agreement of military cooperation between Thailand and Japan, which was quickly followed by declarations of war by Thailand on Great Britain and the United States.

The final agreement for cooperation was signed by the Thai Prime Minister Field Marshal Phibun Songkhram and Japanese Garrison Commander General Nakamura Aketo. The Thais  agreed to assist in the construction of the railway by making available the resources of the Royal Thai Railway, prepare the earthworks for the course of the line, build bridges and provide drainage to prevent flooding. This was much more than the Thais agreed to in helping to build the more famous Death Railway starting at Nong Pladuk to the north, but these were early days!

The Japanese suddenly needed more labour than they initially thought as Thai contracted workers ran away

The Japanese agreed to provide labour to lay the line and sleepers, provide the rails and equipment         ( looted from Kelantan) and the conscripted Malayan Railway staff. The Thai contracted out their share of work – like in Kanchanaburi the workers (paid) were mostly Thai Chinese, but the Japanese were harsh to all those working on the line, and these hired workers gradually ran way. The Japanese had already sourced labourers to carry out their part of the agreement, including construction of docks,  from Malaya. They now decided to start to obtain more of this labour – paid or otherwise –  to make up the Thai shortfall. Treatment of workers was already brutal, now it became horrific.

Asian workers on the northern Death Railway

Asian workers on the northern Death Railway between Nong Pladuk and Thabyuzayat

 

There are no existing records for this line, the Japanese kept little if any to do with the slave workers – and  allied records state that allied prisoners were not employed. From Thai eye witnesses it was overwhelmingly Malay Tamils who were used and  worked 24/7, without adequate food or medicine – the increasingly frequent dead being thrown to the side to the line, or incorporated into the line itself. Some estimate 50 – 70 thousand perished.

Chumphon to Khao Fa Chi Village

The line ran roughly along  the present Route 4 from Chumphon to Ranong, and it’s course can be traced upto the port facilities at the Khao Fa Chi village rail terminal. Here a Japanese army base of at least 600 troops occupied the hill dominating the area.

The railway, built by slaves, operated until the intensive bombing started – in November 1944 20 bombers attacked the piers on the La Un and the Kra river, and the railway itself. A March 1945 raid of 30 bombers put an end to its operation – the Japanese abandoned it and the remaining workers to their fate.

The track and facilities heavily bombed

Rail track and equipment, much of which had been taken from the Malayan Rail network, were transferred north to Kanchanaburi, and to help repair Bangkok’s rail network, which has started to experience allied air raids.The Japanese surrendered on 10th August 1945 and their army was disarmed. British soldiers dismantled the railway and the rails were returned to Kelantan, Malaysia, from whence it was looted. Today,  traces of the path of the railway can be seen running alongside the Petchkasem Highway (Rout 4), which also has a small stretch of line as a memorial, but not in the original location of the track. There was heavy migration out of the area after the war, the present population have little knowledge of what went on during the war. Gradually the remains of war relics are returning to dust and one should take care of any unexploded ordinance, but most if not all was cleared after the war. Tunnels, trenches and underground shelters surround the old and extensive hill fort are now overgrown, but it is possible – with care – to explore the site.You can also see, at low tide, the remains of a Japanese logistics warship, bombed by the allies, like so many others, and a water well dug by the Japanese, but still used by the Khao Fa Chi villagers.

Khao Fa Chi tourist map

Khao Fa Chi tourist map in Thai. It is possible to see the hill, the original railway line and the modern road and bridge

The surviving prisoners

Sir Andrew Gilchrist, was one of the first British officers to reach Chumporn after cessation of hostilities. He found, described in a letter to his wife :
“… thousands of sick and starving and dying labourers whom the Japanese had brought up from Malaya and Sumatra and Java and Singapore… abandoned … the “hospital” – a charnal house – rotting huts with 30 serious case and corpses- ulcers, dysentry, beri-beri and malaria, white scabies, typhoid, pneumonia, syphilis, gonorrhea and cancer – the Japanese attitude was not sio much of obstruction but of total incomprehension : they could not understand why anyone too so much interest in those miserable creatures”. No Japanese was ever brought to trial for the treatment of the workers here.


View The other Death Railway in Thailand

Please use your mouse to zoom out a little to find the locations of sites covered in the article.

More regard, acknowledgement and remembrance should be paid to those who died here.

 

For more details of this and other destinations in South East Asia contact:

dtctravel.com

Posted on by TOBY in Asia, Remembrance Tour, Thailand, Tours, Walking tours 8 Comments

8 Responses to The other Thai Burma Railway

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      Thank you. I do try to check all the information and have the benefit of being able to speak to some of the survivors – some Malay Tamils who never went back home as they lost their families – fishermen whose grandfathers had help transport Japanese good by rafts to Burma, and one Chinese Thai family, whose grandfather had been a slave worker but ran away.

       
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