James Kerr - Hellfire Pass

Running time
1 min 48 sec
Date made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


My camp was below the one you probably heard of, Hellfire Pass? Well that was the biggest cutting on the railway. The one that we had was only a small cutting. So we had a small cutting in the embankment, so it had what we call "Hammer and tap" men where you had a steel rod with a pointy end, and a fellow with a seven-pound sledgehammer. So you held the rod while he belted the end of it, and he turned it. So he bore a hole in the rock, and when they had enough holes they wanted to use in that particular section, they'd put dynamite in there and blow the rock. Then we'd have to clear rock.

There's never a wheelbarrow, there's no wheelbarrows on the railway. All we had was a rice sack with two bamboo poles shoved through its side, and that's how you carried the dirt and the rock. No wheelbarrow. It's incredible, isn't it? And that's how all the dirt and rock was moved. Two men, a rice sack, and two bamboo poles…we had to be sure the fellow wielding the hammer knew what he was doing. Yeah. That's right. Hammer and tap man, they were called…as they started working towards getting it completed, the hours increased of course. And that's why Hellfire Pass got its name, because they used to light these bamboo torches, and on the tops of torches had this top of the cutting that shed some light on the men working down below.

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