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Hundreds walked the notorious Hellfire Pass on Friday to commemorate Australian soldiers conscripted to build Japan’s “Death Railway” from Bangkok to Rangoon during WWII.
The crowd of mostly Australian war veterans and their relatives marched to a memorial site in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, where they held a candlelit ceremony for fallen servicemen.
Japanese forces enlisted Asian labourers and Allied prisoners of war (POWs) to build the route, often forcing them to work 18-hour days and subjecting them to beatings and starvation. About 100,000 people died in the process, either as a result of brutality or disease.
Approximately 12,000 of those deaths were POWs. Nearly 3,000 were from Australia and New Zealand.
The Hellfire Pass, which cut through the treacherous Tenasserim Hills, was one of the most deadly and difficult stretches of the project. The cutting was named for the hellish image of labourers seen working by torchlight into the night.
Jonathan Kenna, Deputy Head of Mission for the Australian Embassy in Thailand, was among the attendees.
The event was also attended by 97-year-old Harold Martin, a POW forced to work on the railway.
Other veterans at the ceremony remarked upon their burning memories of war and enslavement. One former POW, Milton Fairclough, said that he still sees the images when he closes his eyes.
The march marked one of Australia’s most important national holidays, ANZAC Day, originally established to honour members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli during WWI. The holiday is now observed annually in honour of all Australians and New Zealanders who fought and died in in service.