Just a short stroll from the Bridge over the River Kwai is the most moving sight of Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. The Don Rak War Cemetery is the final resting place of around 5000 Commonwealth and 2,000 Dutch prisoners of war (the Americans repatriated their war dead), literally worked to death with their military colleagues under a brutal work regime. Their plaques sit on a beautifully manicured and lovingly tendered lawn, each small bronze plaque representing the loss of a father, son, husband and/or grandson. Tiny gardens and colourful blooms interlace the cemetery lovingly tendered by the Thai people.
The ages of most are so young, men barely out of boyhood living their last months in such awful conditions – it is hardly imaginable. Many feature a short inscription from parents or family which adds an individual touch and character to the valiant soldier who gave his life so we can have a better and freer life today. Each phrase stirs the heart strings. Each epitaph tells a story.
A voice we love is still.
A place vacant that we can never fill.
For your tomorrow we gave our today.
He died that we might live. Ever remembered.
Some day “Tom” I will understand.
Greater Love hath no man than this. That he lay down his life.
It is estimated that one person died for each railway sleeper laid on the Death Railway.
The entrance contains a small altar with a variety of plaques and memorials. At the rear of the cemetery is a plot that carries the ashes of 300 cholera victims from an outbreak in 1943 in the Nieke camp. A large memorial cross stands like a beacon of hope in the centre of the cemetery.
Unlike the famed bridge, Don Rak captures the emotion and feeling of this area. My tears fell as I sat quietly under the tree trying to truly understand what this place means. I cried for the thousands of young men who gave up their lives so my life can be better and that our lives can be lived in freedom.
Every ANZAC Day (25 April) a small ceremony is conducted at Don Rak as it is in many cemeteries and memorials around the world and in towns, big and small, all over Australia and New Zealand. The Ode of Remembrance is read as we recall the brave people at places like Don Rak in their harrowing experiences in building this railway.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Lest we forget.