Thanbyuzayat World War II Cemetery, Thanbyuzayat
Located at one end of the infamous Thai-Burma Railway, Thanbyuzayat Cemetery is the final resting place of those who died on the northern section of the railway, between Moulmein and Nieke in Myanmar. Implemented by the Japanese Imperial Army, the Thai-Burma Railway was built by Prisoners Of War from the Commonwealth, Dutch and American forces, along with forced labourers from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, and conscripted civilians from Thailand and Myanmar. Working from opposite ends of the railway line (Thanbyuzayat, Myanmar and Kanchanaburi, Thailand) towards a central point, labourers were forced to construct the 424 kilometres of track in only 14 months. Initially a Prisoner of War Camp for those arriving to work on the line and a hospital cemetery during the construction of the railway, Thanbyuzayat was reformed as Commonwealth Graves War Cemetery at the conclusion of the war, and has since been maintained by the War Graves Commission.
Approximately 13,000 Prisoners of War died during the construction and ongoing up-keep of the railway, along with another possible 80,000 – 100,000 locally conscripted workers. In 1946, a grave survey party traced the railway to Ban Pong in Thailand, uncovering the graves of all but 52 men who died along this section of the track. Containers were found close by the graves that secretly contained the details of the dead individuals and maps of the burial locations, a measure that allowed for a greater rate of identification. The remains located were moved to Thanbyuzayat over the coming months.
Today the Thanbyuzayat Cemetery has 3,149 Commonwealth graves from World War II, including 1,651 British, 1,335 Australia, 15 Indian Army, three New Zealand and one Canadian, alongside 621 Dutch graves. A number of Americans were also buried at the cemetery but were repatriated to the US after the conclusion of the war. Each grave is marked with a plant and in one of the corners a cross stands, marked with the words ‘this cross was made and set up in this cemetery… by the men held prisoner during the years 1942-1945 and is preserved here as a witness to their faith and fortitude’. The Myanmar section of the railway was removed and sold for scrap metal at the end of the war but a small reconstructed section of the track and a disused locomotive have been built in the cemetery to mark the beginning of the ‘death railway’. Due to its location, Thanbyuzayat Cemetery receives far less visitors than the other significant Thai-Burma Railway Cemetery at Kanchanaburi in Thailand. However, in more recent years a growing number of people have visited the site to pay their respects to buried family members and many Australians attend ANZAC day ceremonies on April 25th.