Thai-Burma railway

Railway section showing Hellfire Pass

Railway section showing Hellfire Pass

Map by Jocelyn Freeman in Railway of Death by ER Hall and reproduced in The War Diaries of Weary Dunlop

 ‘In 1943 Japan’s high command decided to build a railway linking Thailand and Burma, to supply its campaign against the Allies in Burma.

The railway was to run 420 kilometres through rugged jungle. It was to be built by a captive labour force of about 60,000 Allied prisoners of war and 200,000 romusha, or Asian labourers. They built the track with hand tools and muscle power, working through the monsoon of 1943.  All were urged on by the cry “speedo!”

Relentless labour on inadequate rations in a deadly tropical environment caused huge losses. By the time the railway was completed in October 1943, at least 2,815 Australians, over 11,000 other Allied prisoners, and perhaps 75,000 romusha were dead….’

description by Australian War Memorial

 Weary Dunlop on seeing romusha working party, 22 April 1943:

‘just another of those dreary , homeless mass migrations of war along a road of sickness and death’

 Weary Dunlop on birds, 24 November 1944:

golden oriole wikipedia‘Birds cause considerable amusement around here. Very showy in the mornings, the rather silent little drongos with slender bodies like a willy wagtail, forked tails, and astonishing manoeuvrability, pouncing on flies and turning in their own length. Multitudinous cheeky little mynah birds…occasionally raided by another type of almost black mynah with a little tuft above the beak, all shrilling at each other in a hostile way. The magpie robin is still evident, also smug little doves, naturally usually in pairs, and our show-piece, the golden oriel. There are scarlet-crested woodpeckers and innumerable vultures and crows. Lastly multitudinous extremely small birds, not forgetting the rather pretty egregious sparrows, which gave the entrance to our hut the name coined by Billy ‘The Gate of Happy Sparrows.’

Image uncredited/Wikimedia

 Excerpts from The War Diaries of Weary Dunlop, EE Dunlop, Nelson Publishers 1986


narrow road

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a novel framed by experiences of the Thai-Burma railway, by Richard Flanagan (Vintage, 2013). The title mirrors a work by late 17th century Japanese poet and traveller Basho.

 War birds:

German pigeon-photographer

German pigeon-photographer

British Royal Engineer with war-pigeon

British Royal Engineer with war-pigeon

Images Bundesarchiv_Bild_183_1996 and

‘Messenger pigeons have been used in wartime for centuries, even in the face of increasingly sophisticated telecommunications equipment. From the outbreak of World War II until VE-Day the RAF were parachuting ‘intelligence’ pigeons onto the Continent with notes asking pro-Allied finders to return the birds with information about the enemy. Of 17,080 pigeons dropped, only 1,708 returned…many really were wounded by gun-fire or attacked by falcons, which were used by the enemy as interceptors. No bird carried out more than three successful operations…’

The Dickin Medal, the highest possible decoration for valour given to non-human animals, was awarded to 32 pigeons.

Valiant, 2005The 2005 computer-animated story of Valiant, a wood pigeon who joins the Royal Homing Pigeon Service

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