Hellfire Pass, a place which will leave you speechless
Hellfire Pass is the name of the railway cutting on the former Death Railway, also known as the Burma Railway, which was built during World War II by the Prisoners of War under horrible circumstances. The Hellfire Pass is well known for the harsh conditions and the big amount of loss of life regarding the construction laborers. The pass is called the Hellfire Pass because the scene of starving Prisoners of War working under harsh conditions at night by light of the torches was said to look like a scene from Hell. This blog’s focus is on Hellfire Pass and the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum, if you want to read more about the Death Railway itself please click here.
The cruel history of Hellfire Pass
One of the biggest reasons why so many Prisoners of War and forced laborers suffered and died during the construction of this particularly part of the Death Railway was because the Hellfire Pass was the largest rock cutting on the railway. Combined with its general remoteness and the lack of good working tools led to horrible results. Maybe you are thinking right now “Why didn’t they just make a tunnel instead of a cutting?”, well because the tunnel could only be build at one end at a time, whereas the cutting could be worked on at all points, time was valuable for the Japanese. The Prisoners of War, consisting of Australian, British, Dutch and other allied prisoners, had to work 18 hours a day to complete this cutting of the Hellfire Pass. According to statistics, in the six weeks it took to finish the cutting, almost 70 men were beaten to death by the Japanese and many others died from among others diseases, starvation and exhaustion. As if this was not enough yet, also a lot of Asian laborers lost their lives during this construction. These Asian laborers were promised of good jobs but at the end it all turned out to be false promises and a lot of these laborers suffered and died like the Prisoners of War. Exact numbers are not available because of these deaths the Japanese kept no records.
Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum’s background
The preservation and the development of this historical place is the result of the Australian ex-Prisoner of War Dhr. J G “Tom” Morris’ inspiration. Morris was one of the thousands of Prisoners of War who were working on the Death Railway during World War II under horrible circumstances. Morris survived the cruel times and 40 years after his work on the Death Railway he decided to go back to Thailand and to search for the Hellfire Pass. In 1984 Morris was not only successful to find the Hellfire Pass (which was almost not able to be found anymore due to the surrounding jungle) but he also found the inspiration to remain this historical place in remembering of all those who suffered or lost their lives during the construction of the Death Railway. Morris asked the Australian Government to dedicate Hellfire Pass as a historical place. Firstly a budget was made available to build a memorial and to improve the access to the location. In 1994 more and more funds have been assigned to improve the museum itself, the walking paths and information signs. The museum officially opened on 25 April 1998 and it welcomes nowadays more than 80,000 visitors a year.
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