Newsletter for the Rotary Club of Western Endeavour - Issue No.: 922 Issue Date: 2 Aug, 2020

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Thai Burma Railway

David Piesse is preparing for his 18th tour and he took time out this week to present to our members the Quiet Lion Tours which is an organisation run by volunteers including surviving prisoners of war of the Japanese during World War II who worked on the Burma-Thailand railway.

Over 22 000 Australians were captured by the Japanese when they conquered South East Asia in early 1942. More than a third of these men and women died in captivity. This was about 20 per cent of all Australian deaths in World War II.

The Burma-Thailand railway was built in 1942–43 by prisoners of war to allow Japan through to Burma as they had lost control of the sea. The original design and plan for the railway was to take 5 years to construct, however with the aim to complete as quickly as possible the Japanese used prisoners of war to construct in an expeditated time frame. About 13 000 of the prisoners who worked on the railway were Australian.

When this workforce proved incapable of meeting the tight deadlines the Japanese had set for completing the railway, a further 200 000 Asian were enticed or coerced into working for the Japanese

The 415-kilometre railway ran from Thanbyuzayat in Burma (now Myanmar) to Non Pladuk in Thailand.

The building of the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum by the Australian government in 1998 made it a key site of memory, attracting tourists and 'pilgrims' of many nationalities.

Quiet Lion tours was established by 2 retired prisoners of war and is a not for profit organisation. Tours run every Anzac Day and tour groups have reached as many as 120 people with school students sponsored to join the tour over the years.

Boon Pong, using as cover his contract with the Imperial Japanese Army to supply the canteens of Allied POWs working along the Kwai Lo River, smuggled medicine, money and contraband food to the POWs and is credited by many with saving thousands of lives during the building of the Burma Railway. The Weary Dunlop Boonpong Fellowship was established in 1988 and has supported over 90 Thai fellows undertaking clinical attachments in Australian hospitals.

Author: Donna Thornton

Published: 22 April, 2019


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