Kinsaiyok camps

[Kinsaiyok] was on flat ground close to the Menam Kwai Noi River, and as the weather was still extremely wet, for the most part constituted a quagmire.

[Prisoners of War Camps Thailand—Report of Kinsayok Camp and Hospital/Report on Tarsau Base Hospital 1943-1944, AWM54, 554/5/1.]

Located a short distance beyond Hellfire Pass, Kinsaiyok consisted of a cluster of camps where Australians of D Force, Dunlop Force, and K and L Forces worked on the Burma-Thailand railway in 1943–44.

After arriving in Thailand, D Force was divided into four 'battalion' work units (S, T, U and V). Of these, Q and V would work at Kinsaiyok from March 1943. Q Battalion, consisting mainly of men from the 2/40th Battalion, 2nd Australian Imperial Force, arrived, by truck or foot, in mid-March. Later they moved seven kilometres down river to a satellite jungle camp, where they cleared a line leading back to Kinsaiyok. On 24 July they moved again, to Krian Kri, by barge and foot, where they stayed until the line was completed.

On 31 March V battalion, consisting of 487 Australians, arrived at Kinsaiyok which was already occupied by three hundred British and six hundred Dutch prisoners. Their first tasks were to cut a track through the jungle ahead of the rail-laying gangs and to excavate a long cutting. Seven men of V battalion died during their thirty-two-day stay at Kinsaiyok. They left in early May, marching north to Brankasi (Brenkassi) camp.

Later in 1943 elements of two multinational medical groups, K and L Forces, which the Japanese raised to provide assistance to the Asian labourers or  rǒmusha who were dying in vast numbers on the railway, also worked at a 'coolie' hospital established at Kinsaiyok.

In September 1943 when railway construction around the Hintok sector was completed, the Japanese concentrated Australians from Dunlop Force at Kinsaiyok, where they remained until January 1944. Among these prisoners was the Australian surgeon, Lieutenant-Colonel E.E. 'Weary' Dunlop, who became Senior Medical Officer at the camp.

The main Kinsaiyok camp was situated close to the Kwae Noi, where waterfalls cascaded into the river. Above the camp was a major rail terminus, with a number of loop lines, a storage shed and a water standpipe. In the vicinity were a number of bridges, which the prisoners constructed in 1943 and were required to maintain in 1944. The marshalling yard was damaged by Allied bombing later in the war.

Accommodation at Kinsaiyok consisted of the long attap huts typical of those in railway construction camps. But many of the huts were little more than collapsing hovels, their roofs easily penetrated by the constant rain. The kitchens were subject to flooding.

The proximity of the river meant that prisoners could trade with Thai merchants. This was an incalculable advantage, since the food supplied by the Japanese was a bare subsistence ration of rice, sometimes supplemented by meat and vegetables. At the jungle camp hunger drove the prisoners to eat monkeys. The access to the river also meant the camp could be supplied secretly with money and drugs by a member of the Thai resistance, Nai Boonpong Sirivejabhandu.

Conditions at Kinsaiyok eased as the railway progressed. Dunlop noted on 20 September 1943 that, before the men moved off to work and on their return, they were required by their Sergeant Major to sing songs: 'highly approved by the Nipponese' were 'He'll be coming round the Mountain', 'Daisy' and 'Sons of the Sea all British Born'. '"Rule Britannia" has been employed but "Britons never, never will be slaves" rang rather hollow'. [E.E. Dunlop, The War Diaries of Weary Dunlop, Melbourne, Nelson, 1986, 286.]

Nonetheless, the prisoners at Kinsaiyok suffered many of the illnesses that were endemic on the railway. Dunlop's first impressions were that:

Things at Kinsaiyok are very much at sixes and sevens. ... Each group looks after its own sick, the hospital being run by a 'Soviet of captains', but no common policy, no common stores, no arrangements for diets or special segregation of disease. ... Sanitation poor, with only one big latrine for all ... More latrines are being put down, of the open type unfortunately, though otherwise well made. Flies as usual and an offensive smell. For ablution a little stream pouring down to the river with a walk of 440 yards. This is also, alas, used by numerous Tamils [They were a sanitation risk].

[The War Diaries of Weary Dunlop, Melbourne, Nelson, 1986, 283-4.]

Dunlop soon organised the pooling of medical supplies, a camp fund to buy food for the sick and the construction of a new hospital. This had a dedicated kitchen, an operating theatre with an earthen floor, and longitudinal bamboo platforms for the 'beds' with passages between to allow nursing access to the patients. No sooner had he implemented these changes than Dunlop left Kinsaiyok for the hospital at Tha Sao on 25 October 1943.

A small hospital continued to be maintained at Kinsaiyok until 1945, serving the groups maintaining the railway. Kinsaiyok had three cemeteries with around four hundred graves.

Kinsaiyok today

The camp site today is part of the Sai Yok National Park which can be accessed by road from the Highway 323 a few kilometres beyond the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum. Just beyond the entrance to the park, on the left, is the site of the Kinsaiyok railway station, a space wide enough to accommodate two lines where trains passed each other. Remnants of a coal dump that fuelled the locomotives are marked here. A section of the railway has been cleared as a walking trail.

The main camp site was above the waterfalls that still cascade into the Kwae Noi. A signposted track beyond today's camp site and shops leads to the ruins of a Japanese store house and the impressive gully where a three-and-a-half tier bridge was constructed in 1943.The concrete emplacements of this are still visible.

Last updated: 23 January 2020

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), Kinsaiyok camps, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 1 October 2022,
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