The Thai-Burma railway: aysmmetrical and transnational memories

Joan Beaumont, Andrea Witcomb

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    In 1942-43 a force of possibly 200,000 to 300,000 people, working under the supervision of the Imperial Japanese Army, constructed a railway from Kanchanaburi in western Thailand to Thanbyuzayat on the Andaman Sea coast of Burma (now Myanmar). The purpose of this railway was to provide a supply link between the Gulf of Thailand and Burma, which the Japanese had occupied in early 1942. The sea route via the Straits of Malacca had become unreliable after the Battle of Midway in June 1942 and a new, more secure, overland route was needed to maintain the Jap­anese armies in Burma as they planned to invade India. The Thai-Burma railway was completed in a little over a year, a remark­ able achievement given that it stretched some 415 kilometres over remote and rugged mountains on the Thai-Burmese border, in a region which became disease­ infested and inaccessible during the monsoon season. However, the loss of life was enormous. Possibly 100,000 Asian labourers (rõmusha) and around 12,000 Allied prisoners died during the railway’s construction, from a mix of malnutrition, disease and overwork.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Pacific War: Aftermaths, remembrance and culture
    Editors Christina Twomey and Ernest Koh
    Place of Publication2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN
    ISBN (Print)9780415740647
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


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