“When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today”*
In November 2013 an article in the UK newspaper “Daily Mail” related the fact that most of the 300,000 wars graves in the UK remain unvisited, including that of Cabin Boy Reginald Earnshaw, killed off Norfolk in 1941 at the age of 14 when the SS North Devon was sunk. The largest UK war cemetery gets 10 visitors (at most) a day (Brookwood Military Cemetery with 1,601 Commonwealth burials from the First World War and 3,476 from the Second World War). Many military cemeteries are also undeservedly little visited, and the many sites of battles.
Asian battlefields have mostly remained unchanged
Millions of visitors a year visit the battlefields and war cemeteries in Belgium and Northern France, including the Commonwealth Memorial at Vimy Ridge, (which alone attracts 750,000 visitors annually). Many of these sites have museums and recreations of trench systems for instance. In comparison the rural battlefields in Asia remain unchanged from when the actions were fought. However there are some excellent museums in Hong Kong, Singapore, and in Thailand at Kanchanaburi and Hellfire Pass
Many militay sites are missed because they are not commercialised
The latter two locations in Thailand have become established as one in four international visitors follow organised tours to the “Bridge on the River Kwai” (made famous by the 1957 movie), but they miss so many other interesting sites nearby because it is not part of the “tour”. Even the tour guides do not realise their existence. This is why it is best to use professionals such as DTC Travel as they can explain the battles sites, the popular and the less visited museums in the region. DTC Travel can also connect you with military record authorities of the various nationalities involved in the conflicts in South East Asia.
Hell Fire Pass
The popularity of this site is due to the excellent museum which has been created by Australian government finance as part of it’s “nation building”, and to commemorate all those who died on the infamous death railway. But who remembers the other death railway in Thailand, or the two death roads (1) + (2)? Who remembers the death railway in Indonesia?
Just outside Kanchanaburi town, a short boat or motor ride away, is Chungkai Cemetery, created on the location of the graveyard of the second prison camp along the railway, and very near an impressive ” railway cutting” made by POW’s into solid rock. The average visitor numbers is very low, possibly just over one hundred per year, similar to a war cemetery in Botley Oxford, England ( containing 695 allied soldiers and airmen and 37 German airmen) which in 2013 attracted only 60 visitors. Possibly if either cemetery contained the remains of Australians things would be different!
Myanmar is more accessible today
In Myanmar/ Burma things are opening up. There are three Commonwealth war cemeteries in the country. The largest is at Taukkyan, some 25 kilometres north of Yangon, with over 6,000 graves and memorial to 26,000 allied dead in the retreat in 1942 and the advance into Burma in 1944/45. It is the most visited in Myanmar, but has a fraction of the numbers of Don Rak, Kanchanaburi. It includes 5 Victoria Cross recipients.
Another, the much smaller Rangoon Cemetery (which includes the grave of George Cross winner Major Seagrim, who fought with the Karen levees, some of whom lie with him having been executed near that spot had just over 150 visitors in 2012. Nearby is the site of a stockade fort from the Anglo Burmese War and the main Japanese execution ground in WW2.
Thanbyuzayat is the other in Myanmar, which was the start of the Burmese end of the Death Railway – with British, Dutch and Australian graves and memorials, but little visited. However, if people realised that the six hour journey from Yangon passes some of the most contested battles of the Burma campaign of WW2 (1) + (2), with easy to visit sites little changed, maybe more people would go. The route is Burma’s version of the Western Front of WW1.
Lessons from the Duke
The Duke of Wellington visited the battle field of Waterloo (fought 1815) in 1831, and found the first memorial to the battle, the still existing 131ft high “Butte du Lion”, built on the location where the Prince of Orange was wounded. It was created by removing the ridge by which the Duke had hidden a part of his army during the last French advances in the battle. He declared “they have ruined my battlefield”. This is not the case in much of Asia. You can still follow the course of action in terrain similar to when it was fought over – going back centuries, not just in WW2.
Venues and attractions
We should all be aware that time moves on but we still have time to appreciate the actions of all our forefathers of whatever nationality, and visit the graves of the fallen, wherever they are.
*The Kohima Epitaph ( attributed John Maxwell Edmonds (1875 -1958), an English Classicist and suggested for the Kohima Memorial by Major John Etty-Leal, the GSO II of the 2nd Division). Kohima and Imphal were the main battles which pushed back the Japanese invasions of India in 1944.