A group of about 11 people met yesterday, 1 November 2015 to set up an interest group to remember the thousands of men, women and children from Malaya who were involved in the Siam-Burma Death Railway. Mr P Chandrasekaran was elected Chair of the Death Railway Interest Group (DRIG) and Mr Christopher John, Secretary. Chandran and Chris have been working many years in gathering information about those from our part of the world who were involved in the building of the Death Railway. ESPACT volunteered its services to support the efforts of the group.
The Death Railway was one the Japanese built at great human cost, as part of their war efforts in the Far East. It connected the railway networks of Malaya and Thailand to that of Burma and created a land route for the Japanese that would take them through to India and China.
The atrocities that went with the construction of the 415 km railway occupies the war memories of many nations because many nationals were involved in its construction. The prisoners of war who were forced into the task of building the railway line are the ones most remembered, according to Chandran. They included troops from the British and Dutch armies and even a small number of US sailors who were survivors of naval encounters with the Japanese in the East. A number of colonial officers from Britain and the Netherlands serving in Malaya and the Dutch East Indies were also pressed into service as labourers for the project, some of them picked up from the infamous POW camp in Changi, Singapore.
Chandran pointed out that captured soldiers and colonial officers were not the only ones who suffered the atrocities in building the railway. According to available information, about 80% of those involved in the construction were men and women recruited or forced as labourers, from South East Asia, including Malaya. Some records show that almost 200,000 were recruited from Malaya alone. In terms of the numbers that died, the casualties were highest among this latter group. About 80,000 is said to have perished in building the line.
Chandran insists that DRIG's main interest is not in rehearsing the atrocities or in attributing blame for the brutalities, but in discovering the role played by those from our part of the world who were engaged in the building of the line and what had happened to them after the war was over. According to him, whatever the role these people played, they had participated in the unimaginable task of building a 415 km railway line over some of the most challenging terrain in the world. The group that met in the Lake Club feels very strongly that what had happened to these people is part of this nation's past and it was important to find them a place in the nation's memory.
DRIG hopes to establish contacts with the survivors or members of their families and friends through the Facebook and its website.
They are looking for any information, however trivial, that is connected with the Death Railway.