The Bridge on the River Kwai

I am a huge fan of WWII movies, and the classic with William Holden is one of my favorites. Mary Ann and I found a tourist agency that ran a trip to the Kwai. She knew I would pout if we did not do it, so we booked it and went.

I was very excited. I started whistling the song famous from the movie until she gave me a look that said, “that’s enough of that”.

At the end of the day, I still liked the movie, but it should be called Some Bridge Over Some River. I know Hollywood takes liberties with historical facts, but this time they just made it all up.

Yes, there was a bridge on the Kwai that was part of the Malaysia to Rangoon railway the Japanese hoped to get up and running to support a drive into India. Yes, they used prisoners for labor. Yes, most of them were captured when the Brits surrendered Singapore. Some were sailors from the destroyed Repulse and Prince of Wales. These two ships and the fortress of Singapore were the bastions of British occupation in South East Asia. Winston Churchill had ordered that Singapore never surrender and fight to the last man. The British commanders defied him after the Prince of Wales and Repulse were sunk, basically cutting off Singapore from any resupply possibilities.  Churchill referred to this as the greatest defeat in British history. It was in fact, the beginning of the end of the British Empire.

In Hollywood’s version of the story, British prisoners were forced to build a bridge over the Kwai. In the movie, they designed it and built a “proper bridge”. Poppycock.

The bridge was not made from trees in the jungle. It was made of steel, and brought to the Kwai in pieces and assembled there. This is what it looked like then, and still does.

Historical photos show this same bridge, nothing like the movie.

Enough of debunking revisionist history and back to the tour.

Our first stop was a wonderfully done cemetery. It was established and is maintained by The Commonwealth Grave Commission. It is in the town of Kachanaburi, which is a mere 4 km away from the bridge. It was a village in WWII. The movie tells is that the bridge was miles and miles away from any civilization. It wasn’t.

Anyway, the cemetery is a true shrine to the 6,982 men buried there. There are Brits, Aussies and Dutch. After the war, the allies forced the japanese to dig up every grave they could find along the entire length of “The Death Railway” . American bodies were sent back to America, the others buried in two cemeteries. One here and one in Burma.

The gate to the cemetery at Kanchanaburi.

When you enter this shrine, it is awe inspiring. A great tribute to the men who died building this railroad in brutal conditions.

The first thing you notice when you walk thru the gates

Every man buried here is identified with his rank and outfit. there were some from the Repulse and the Prince of Wales. Almost all of them had inspirational sayings chosen by the families.

After a half hour here, we had to leave. I could have spent more time honoring these guys who died in the worst way I can imagine, but alas, my tour van was leaving.

We went to the Death Railway Museum.

Typical exhibit.

The rail car is real. I read descriptions of hundfreds of men in one car, no food or facilities.

This is a real engine from the Death Railway

I'm not sure why I wanted to stand on this engine, but I had to.

Overall it was a decent museum. It had relics and photos and the usual museum pieces that told the story. I was uncomfortable with a group of Japanese tourists being there. I guess that is my problem. Someday I hope to visit the “Hanoi Jane” Museum in Vietnam, so I have nothing to complain about.

Part of the story in the movie has a gallant group of men from some British special forces unit hiking through the jungle with explosives and destroying the bridge as the first train traverses it. Again, poppycock.

The bridge was bombed, twice, by the U.S. Army Aircorp. (we are good at that)

A bomb that did not hit the target or go off. Other attempts were successful, the bridge was brought down twice.

So now the tour took us on a train ride, on the actual Death Railway.

When we booked the tour we knew it was the Queens birthday. The King and Queen in Thailand are a real big deal. You see their portraits everywhere. Every train station and every dog house has a portrait of the king at least. The queens birthday is a national holiday. So, a tourist joint like the Kwai was jumping. We were told we would take an old train, across the Kwai bridge and another “wooden” bridge, ride for an hour, then go home from there.

It was not real old, but it had character.

There were so many people on this train that Mary Ann and I sat on the floor, in the door of our car. I think we had the best seats. I could lean out and get some decent photos. Someday I will own a real camera and my photos will improve. For now all I can offer are these.

The train had to go very slow over this old bridge along the Kwai. Leaning out to get this photo was a cheap thrill. I hope you appreciate it!

Not misspelled at all. at the end of the journey, we did feel gooood.

That’s all for today folks. What do I have in plan for you tomorrow? More Buddhas, lots and lots of Buddhas.

About forrestwalker

An expat living overseas, traveling with my wife extensively and sharing the experiences with you!.

Posted on August 17, 2010, in thailand and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Great piece. One of my favorite movies too. Did you know that Holden had one of the first, if not the first “back-end” deals by an actor on this film?

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