Nong Pladuck Junction is the crossroads where the Japanese began to lay tracks West. One line veers north and run 142km into the rice country around Suphanburi. Then a couple of kilometres further West, the Southern Line splits south down the Isthmus of Kra, running all the way down to Singapore. This is the track of the famed Eastern Orient Express.
There is a 3rd option – the Death Railway. Shortly after Pearl Harbour the Japanese forces found that British Burma was becoming a liability to its conquest of the Eastern Hemisphere. Burma was one of the Allies’ last sources of rubber, an increasingly important wartime commodity, and it was also a back-door to supply the anti-Japanese resistance in China. So, in early 1942, Imperial Japan invaded Burma from the sea and by land over the Tenasserim Range that we’re now heading towards. They installed a puppet regime, and continued North-West to dig into British India.
If it was only that simple. At its peak, the Allied Forces’ Burma Campaign saw around 1 million troops come from aross the British Empire to head off the Armies of Imperial Japan and its puppet regimes. For Imperial Japan, fighting on this front, and keeping control of Burma meant supplying an equally formidable war effort from the East. However, the Tenasserim Range that divides Thailand from Burma, with its hilly topography, rivers, dense jungles and monsoonal climate, made for a terrible supply route. The alternative sea-route via Singapore and the Malacca Strait was long, and made for easy pickings by the Allied Navy. Linking the Thai rail network to the British-built rail network in on the other side of the hills was the only solution. If successful, Japanese-held Burma would turn from a strategic over-reach into a strategic stronghold – one from which to dig further into British India.
So from this important junction, in early 1942, Japan’s Imperial Army started to lay track urgently, and disasterously. Allow me, if you will, to paint a grusome image in your minds to lend perspective to the scale of this undertaking, and the scale of its tragedy: If you laid down PEOPLE down parrallel to these tracks, lining them up head to feet, for the entire 415km of the Death Railway, thats actually about how many people worked on it, against their will. About 240,000. Every 10th person was an Allied soldier, and the other 9 were civilians from across Southeast Asia that were recruited by force to work under the same horrific conditions. Those laying beside the portion of track that still remains today – from here for about 2 hours to the end of the line at Nam Tok: They didn’t make it.
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