Hintok River camp
The river is rising fast and the cookhouse was only just saved by calling out all hands to move it from the swirling waters. There is something about this large swirling stream, so swollen with menace, as if it would be glad to sweep away the lot of us and go on, chuckling and tearing at its banks with malicious satisfaction.
[Ray Parkin, Into the Smother: A Journal of the Burma–Siam Railway, London, Hogarth, 1963, 170.]
By mid-1943 the railway had crept its way along the contours of the escarpment in the Konyu–Hintok region and the Japanese were redeploying their workforce to other points along the railway route. In early August Lieutenant-Colonel E.E. 'Weary' Dunlop, commanding POWs at Hintok Mountain, heard reports of:
… a great gathering of the clans at the river camp where O P S T J W Y Battalion remnants [mostly of Dunlop and D Forces] are being assembled and a bridging company and a composite party from all battalions. There are about 750 men at present and they will soon be 11-1200.
[The War Diaries of Weary Dunlop, Melbourne, Nelson, 1986, 269.]
This 'great gathering' soon occurred at Hintok River, a site perched on dramatic cliffs high above on a bend in the Kwae Noi. The camp was in fact several camps: a British camp above the cliffs (on land now occupied by a tourist resort); an Australian camp a short distance away near the river bend; and a Tamil rǒmusha camp further upstream. As so often was the case, the 'camp' was nothing more than a patch of uncleared ground when the Australians first arrived.
At least there was a natural spring emerging through the cliff face—although access to this became precarious as the river levels rose with the monsoon. In contrast to Hintok Mountain camp further inland, supplies could be brought in by river, though again heavy rains made the journey increasingly difficult for the Thai barges. Hauling the supplies and water up the cliffs also required considerable ingenuity on the part of the POWs.
The men at Hintok River worked on the excavation of Compressor Cutting on the railway high above the camp. Getting to work meant scrambling up a steep hill face that had no steps and became treacherous with black slimy mud during the monsoon.
Working next to the Australians were a force of Tamil rǒmusha trying to construct the 'Pack of Cards' bridge. This construction collapsed so often — hence its name — that ultimately it was abandoned in favour of an embankment leading up to Compressor Cutting.
The behaviour of the Japanese at Hintok River was not brutal by the standards of other camps. One POW later described the camp as 'almost a home'1. However, with the incessant rain and heavy work the health of the already exhausted workforce deteriorated. Many of the most seriously ill were evacuated to hospitals down river.
It was at Hintok River that the Australian POW Ray Parkin sketched an image of two malaria victims supporting a frail cholera sufferer. In time this image would become the quintessential representation of the tragedy of the Burma-Thailand railway, reproduced not only as the logo of the Changi Museum at Singapore but as a sculpture at the Thailand–Burma Railway Centre museum in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.
- 1. R.W. Newton et al., The Grim Glory of the 2/19 Battalion A.I.F., Sydney, Acme Office Service 1976, 503.