I just woke with a start, how long did I sleep for?
Surely Keith wouldn't let me snore in the tour car?
We're in the mountains a million miles from Bangkok.
It's lush and green, the white clouds rest lazily on the top of the mountains softening the horizon. There are fields of foliage strange to our eyes, tall stems of sago, green melons on bamboo stakes and statuesque sugar cane.
Huge teak trees provide a canopy of shade for the small "sell everything" stalls.
You can buy a banana or a bottle of milk….In early days we bought ice cold coke in a plastic bag held tight with a rubber band and a string handle that also served to anchor the drinking straw.
I love these little cafes, you can pull the car up to the side of the road, hop out and sit on red plastic chairs and a table with a plastic cloth….and the owner will cook you a most delicious meal in a matter of minutes all for the price of a cup of coffee at home.
Our trip today is to Kanchanaburi, the site of the War Cemetery near the infamous "Bridge" in the movie Bridge on the river Kwai……and an hour further north to Hellfire Pass Memorial.
We've been here before. In 1989 with some of our children and 3 other families.
It was an amazing trip. Hot, long and boy could I share some interesting tales.!!!!!!!!
Today, a good friend of ours arranged for his company to provide a car and look after us….. "You should go and see the bridge he said"
We really has no plans for the day but a trip in the country is super after weeks of city dwelling.
It was a long trip and I sketched in the ipad and listened to a little Bach on the way. (my way of relaxing)
2 hours out of the Bangkok traffic we arrived at the war Cemetery "You should look at this" our guide Pat said…
Our first trip all those years ago gave us 10 minutes to look at the city and the war cemetery. We ran up and down the aisles looking for a "Holland or Williams". To no avail. We knew Keith had an uncle that died in this area. Was it his Mums brother or his Dads? That was the first clue.
100's of faceless names on brass plaques rose from a manicured lawn. Who should we look for?
A Thai attendant told us of a book with names of all the people buried there that could direct us into the right direction.
Keith remembered that his younger brother was named after the Uncle so we looked for those names and Holland and Williams. And there it was Thomas John Mortimer Holland 2/3 Machine Gun Battalion, Australian Infantry. Aged 27.
We both stood and looked at the plaque in silence and not knowing how to react. I know I was close to sobbing and I turned and walked away.
Keith bent down to touch it and I left him with his thoughts.
An Australian man approached us and broke the moment. (I think he's done that before) He explained that he was the Manager of the site. We chatted for ages and he guided us to a museum over the road where we spent an hour or so learning about Thomas Holland.
He was captured by the Japanese in Java and was one of Weary Dunlop's men shipped, trucked and walked into the jungle with the purpose of building the Burma Roadway. We learned that he died of Cholera just a few months after his 27th birthday. He was buried in the camp in Hin Tok.
So armed with some very official papers and information we took time out for lunch and to take a deep breath.
I fell asleep on the next hours drive to Hellfire Pass and that's where I began this blog.
Hellfire Pass is a 500 meters long and 26 meters deep section of rock that was dug out by Prisoners of War intended to allow the ‘Death Railway’ to continue its route from Bangkok to Rangoon. Soldiers were forced to remove the rock using no more than picks, hammers and their bare hands. Of the 1,000 Australian and British soldiers who took 12 weeks to clear the stretch of mountain, 700 died.
The Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum is dedicated to those Australians and other Allied Prisoners of War and Asian laborers who suffered and died at Hellfire Pass and elsewhere in the Asia Pacific region during WW2.
The Memorial is very well done and worth a visit… sadly we didn't have time to walk the 4 kms to the place where Thomas actually died…. but maybe another time.
We did however walk a km or so down the track and through hellfire pass.
The place is so beautiful, It's hard to comprehend the atrocities that occurred there. The original sleepers still remain.
It was a remarkable day indeed.
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My heart was touched, deeply. So many have given all they have then and now….and still we do not have peace. It is overwhelmingly apparent when you stand viewing a sea of graves how devastating