Museums

The history of the Burma-Thailand railway is explored in of a number of museums in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, the town in which the famous 'Bridge on the River Kwai' is located.

Three museums are privately owned and managed by Thais. These include the JEATH museum (Japan–England–Australia–Thailand–Holland) situated on the river bank just below the junction of the Kwae Noi and Mae Khlong/Kwae Yai rivers. Managed by a Buddhist temple, Wat Chaichumpol, the museum was created in 1977 to provide information about the railway for early tourists. Taking the form of a POW hut, with bamboo platforms on either side of a long aisle, it houses POW accounts, paintings, newspaper cuttings and objects donated by the local community who during the war traded food for watches, forks and spoons.

The World War II and JEATH Museum located fifty metres from the 'Bridge on the River Kwai' on Maenamkwai Road, was created by a local businessman Prythong Chansiri in memory of his father who died during the Allied bombing of 1944–45. Using the horrors of war to make a case for peace, this museum combines Thai history and art with an eclectic collection of war weapons and memorabilia.

The third among the Thai museums is a small exhibit in the house of the Thai merchant and member of the Thai underground movement, Boonpong Sirivejjabhand.

The Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre, above the famous Hellfire Pass (Konyu Cutting), in contrast, was established by the Australian government in 1998 with the cooperation of the Thai government.

Each of these museums serves a different purpose and offers a different experience for the visitor. The Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum, for instance, as its name suggests, is a place of reflection as well as an interpretive centre providing the historical context for visitors to the cutting below.

The most comprehensive introduction to the building of the railway is offered by the Thailand–Burma Railway Centre, (TBRC) located across the road from the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery in Jaokunnen Road, Kanchanaburi.

The TBRC was established in 2003 as the result of several years of passionate research and exploration of the railway by an Australian expatriate, Rod Beattie. Beattie has lived in Thailand for over eighteen years and been employed for more than fourteen years by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as Manager of the Kanchanaburi and Chungkai war cemeteries.

The TBRC consists of a museum and research centre. The museum provides information on all aspects of the railway's construction and the multinational workforce used by the Japanese. Its displays include artefacts excavated from POW camps, a three-dimensional representation of the full length railway (with camps sites identified by lights), a recreation of a deep railway cutting, a graphic POW hospital, and a statue of Australian POW Ray Parkin's famous sketch of two malaria victims supporting a man dying of cholera.

The Research Centre is dedicated to researching the history of the railway and individual prisoners of war. It provides information and personal tours for family members seeking answers about the experiences and deaths of their relatives. Its data base is progressively accumulating information on prisoners from the Burma-Thailand railway but also from other regions of the Asia–Pacific during World War II. As of 2012, its records cover 105 000 individuals, including more than 25 000 Australians, 55 000 British and 22 000 Dutch, as well as Americans, Canadians, Indians and New Zealanders.

Data includes personal information about the prisoner, his period of captivity, where he worked and with which workforce, and, if the POW died, the place, date of recovery of the remains and any known subsequent information. All information is provided to family members on request to the TBRC.

The TBRC is progressively digitising its extensive records and historical documents to ensure long-term preservation.


Last updated: 28 January 2020

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), Museums, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 29 September 2021, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/burma-thailand-railway-and-hellfire-pass-1942-1943/locations/remembering-railway/museums
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