Pass where peace now reigns

NOW SERENE: The track down to Hellfire Pass has been reclaimed from the jungle.
NOW SERENE: The track down to Hellfire Pass has been reclaimed from the jungle.

THE track to Hellfire Pass is lush and green.

The rain is falling in a steady pattern on the track where thousands of Australian and Allied prisoners of war and Asian labourers (Romusha) toiled to build the ill-fated Thai-Burma Railway for the Japanese in 1943.

Its where some of the ashes of Sir Edward Weary Dunlop are scattered.

Where he and other doctors tended the sick and dying prisoners, and where today, people come to remember and pin tributes, such as the signature bright red poppies and handwritten notes, onto the walls of the deep cutting known as Hellfire Pass.

TRIBUTES: This picture left by a visitor and pinned in a crack of the pass tells of happier times after the war.

TRIBUTES: This picture left by a visitor and pinned in a crack of the pass tells of happier times after the war.

Dunlop was to describe the site as hot and airless and the vista gaunt and cheerless like a woodheap without end.

But these days it is serene and peaceful as people move slowly and respectfully along the Memorial Walking Trail and on the pass the men carved through solid limestone and quartz 76 years ago.

The 75-metre long, 25-metre deep cutting known as Hellfire Pass received its name from the oil-fired bamboo torches that illuminated the cutting like "the fires of hell".

The light, movement and noise at night was said to resemble a scene from Dante's Inferno.

Yet the memorials and interpretive panels that dot the trail speak of more than the loss of life and suffering.

One of the most moving memorials includes this quote from ex-prisoner-of-war Dr Kevin Fagan:

It gave me a greater understanding of men. And a greater appreciation of the ordinary things of life and the value of human relations. You know when it comes to the end, the only thing that really matters are the people whom you love and who love you.

Audio guide

At the refurbished Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre directly above the pass, you can pick up an audio guide to take with you on the walk. It not only provides the history of Hellfire Pass but includes the commentaries of our exprisoners of war who lived and suffered through the experience.

Listening to the gravelly voices of then-old men relaying their personal stories of cruelty, deprivation and starvation brings many visitors to tears.

Hellfire Pass was lost to the jungle after the war and only rediscovered in the 1980s.

While grass and vegetation has reclaimed the rail line, the stark sheer sides of the hand-made cutting remain as they were.

Today about 160,000 visitors, mostly Australian, travel to this historic site every year to pay their respects.

If you go

THE Hellfire Pass Interpretative Centre, just above the pass, was originally built and funded by the Australian Government in collaboration with the government of the Kingdom of Thailand. It recently re-opened after improvement works. For more information, including first-hand accounts, visit www.anzacportal.dva.gov.au and the Australian War Memorial www.awm.gov.au

Kanchanaburi is a good base from which to explore the area. You can also take the Death Railway Train from River Kwai Bridge to Tham Krasae Cave. A good place to stay is Mida Resort, Kanchanaburi - www.midaresortkanchanaburi.com

Sue Preston was a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

The Hintok Tampi Bridge with Hellfire Pass in the background, after the war. Photo: Australian War Memorial

The Hintok Tampi Bridge with Hellfire Pass in the background, after the war. Photo: Australian War Memorial

This story Pass where peace now reigns first appeared on The Senior.