Hellfire Pass Museum
This Australian built complex consists of a memorial site located within Konyu Cutting (Hellfire Pass), a Memorial Walking Trail completed and the Museum was officially opened on the 24th April 1996 and a modern Museum, exhibiting artifacts and the true story about the Thai-Burma Railway. All sites in this complex are dedicated to memory of all the men and women who worked and died making this railway. The complex is located 80 km north of Kanchanaburi on a Royal Thai Armed Forces Agricultural & Cooperative Division Development Command, 18 km from the end of the operating line at Namtok Station in the village of Thasao.
The memorial site was first dedicated by the Australian-Thai Chamber of Commerce on 25 Apr 1987 , following a request by the Australian former Prisoners of War (ex-POWs) to establish a memorial site in memory of their “mates” whom never returned home the railway. Konyu Cutting was chosen following a survey of the abandoned section of the railway undertaken by an Australian engineer assisting construction of the nearby Khao Laem Dam. It provides a stark demonstration of the engineering undertaken at that time, in the form of one of the most impressive and largest cuttings along arguably the most difficult section on the entire railway. Moreover, the original crew of 400 Australian POWs commenced work at the cutting on 25 th April 43 . They were later supplemented by several additional groups, comprising 600 British and Australian POWs.
Groups of men worked around the clock for 16-18 hours to complete excavation of the 17 metre deep and 110-m long cutting through solid limestone and quartz rock in only 12 weeks. Forced to work at night, Konyu Cutting was nicknamed “ Hellfire Pass ” because of the mixture of hammering noise, lighting from fires, oil fired bamboo torches and carbide lamps that created an eerie illumination that looked like the “Fires from Hell”. After the war in Oct 1945, the graves of 124 men were located in Kanyu No1 Cemetery, which is now occupied by grazing pasture.
Hellfire Pass or “Chong Khao Khart” as it is called in Thai, is located only 250 metres from the entrance to the Museum and is accessed by either the “Concrete Stairway Path” or the “Bamboo Path”. The latter is the recommended path to Hellfire Pass. It not only gives the visitor the opportunity to walk into the cutting the same way that the POWs went to work, but visitors also walk through a grove of large bamboo and look down from the lookouts above the entrance to the cutting. This view provides the most memorable views of Hellfire Pass and an understanding how it derived its name and the sacrifice made by the men who made it.
For the intrepid visitor there is a four kilometre Memorial Walking Trail, that has been cleared and is maintained and monitored daily to accommodate walkers to walk this now peaceful and serene old railway track. The Trail commences at Hellfire Pass Cutting, and incorporates a number of infamous features along the track, such as Compressor Cutting, Hintok Station, both the “Pack of Cards” and Three Tier Bridges, plus the panoramic view of Kwae Noi Look-out .
The Kwae Noi Lookout was a point on the railway from which the POWs could view the whole valley and see thousands of men simultaneously forced to work on embankments, cutting and bridges and gauge progress on the railway. This lookout is located only 170meters north of Hellfire Pass and visitors walk through an remarkable 120m span timber bridge site to reach it.
There are a total of nine bridge sites on the walking trail, where concrete and rock foundations still exist, some with the mounting bolts for the timber beams still in place. Eleven 1000lb bomb craters can still be found around the site of the Three Tier Bridge and Hintok Cutting. The trail has concrete steps and handrails to make the trip easier and safer for walkers, as well as a number of rest areas. Additional toilet facilities are located near Hintok Station.
The modern Museum at Hellfire Pass was built by the Office of Australian War Graves in a joint venture between the Australian Government and the Royal Thai Armed Forces Development Command. The Australian Prime Minister Mr. John Howard opened the museum, on 24 Apr 1998 . It has about 200 Metre sq. of exhibition area. Currently the museum does not have an entrance fee. Donations are therefore gratefully received and used to supplement the funding provided the OAWG to maintain the Museum and surrounding facilities at their high standard.
The Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum is under Australian management from the Office of Australian War Graves, whom are able to provide historical information on request about the railway and activities that occurred within that era to interested visitors.
Apart from displaying exhibits in a modern air conditioned setting, the Museum also has a theatre which shows a short seven minute video made from war footage of the construction of the railway and dialogue from a number of Australian ex-POWs. The Museum is open from 9.00 am to 4.00 PM every day.