Hellfire Pass & Memorial Museum, Kanchanaburi
Opening in 1998, the Hellfire Pass and Memorial Museum was built and funded by the Australian Government in collaboration with the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand. Considered to be the section of railway most difficult to build, as well as the most arduous, the Hellfire Pass and Memorial Museum was developed as an interpretive centre and memorial to those Australians, Allied POWs and Asian labourers who had endured and died along the Thai-Burma Railway and throughout the whole of Asia during World War II. The preservation of the site initially began when in 1985, an Australian man by the name of Tom Morris – a former Prisoner of War on the Thai-Burma Railway – returned to Thailand in an attempt to locate the site of Hellfire Pass (known in Thai as Chong Khao Khat). Upon finding the cutting almost completely overgrown by jungle, Mr Morris proposed to the Australian Government that funding be issued to preserve the site. Supportive of the proposal, in 1985 the Australian Government funded the clearing of the site and the construction of a memorial. Nine years later, after attending an ANZAC Day service at the Hellfire Pass Memorial, Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating gained approval from the Thai Government to develop and build the Hellfire Pass Museum. Today, up to 100,000 visitors attend the museum annually, and each year on April 25th, ANZAC Day commemorative ceremonies are hosted at the memorial site.
The museum itself is located directly above Hellfire Pass and according to the site's official website, attempts to present the history of the Thai-Burma Railway in a balanced way, focusing on the stories of all those involved in building the railway and presenting information in both English and Thai. Audio guides that provide first-hand commentaries from POW survivors are also available in English, Dutch, Japanese and Thai. Consisting mainly of interpretation panels, the museum outlines the beginnings of war in the Asia region and then moves more specifically to discussing the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway, the experiences of the Prisoners of War, the personal stories of both the Allied and local prisoners at Hellfire Pass and to conclude, the defeat of Japan and the release of those POWs who had survived. Supplemented by video, photographs, documentation and personal items such as clothes, tools, paintings and letters, the museum works to connect with visitors on an emotional level to provide a deeper understanding of the POW experience.
Beneath the museum lies the Hellfire Pass cutting. Following the original path of the railway, the walking track leads you from Hellfire Pass through to Hintock Cutting. Standing at 17 metres high and 110 metres long, prisoners were forced to carve through solid limestone and quartz for up to 18 hours a day for 12 weeks at Hellfire Pass, eventually carving a cutting wide enough for a train to pass through. As much of the work carried through the night, the pass received its name from the oil-fired bamboo torches that lit the cutting up like ‘the fires of hell’. Along the path, interpretative panels provide further details about various sites including several other cuttings, the Three-Tier Bridge and Pack of Cards Bridge – all built by the prisoners during the war. Although the railway tracks no longer exist at the site, the conditions endured and the work completed continue to remain visible for all future visitors to Hellfire Pass.