The 25th April 2015 marked the 100th ANZAC day. Events during World War II near Kanchanaburi means that each year soldiers from many different nations who fought and died on the Burma Railway and the Bridge over the River Kwai are remembered each year on this day.
What does ‘ANZAC’ stand for?
‘ANZAC’ stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. On the 25th of April 1915, Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of the allied expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula. These became known as Anzacs and the pride they took in that name continues to this day.
Why is this day special to Australians?
On the morning of 25 April 1915, the Anzacs set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula in order to open the Dardanelles to the allied navies. The objective was to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey), the capital of the Ottoman Empire, and an ally of Germany. At the end of 1915, the allied forces were evacuated. Both sides suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. Over 8,000 Australian soldiers were killed. News of the landing on Gallipoli and the events that followed had a profound impact on Australians at home. The 25th of April soon became the day on which Australians remember the sacrifice of those who had died in the war.
What does Anzac Day mean today?
With the coming of the Second World War, Anzac Day also served to commemorate the lives of Australians who died in that war. The meaning of Anzac Day today includes the remembrance of all Australians killed in military operations.
What happens on ANZAC Day?
Anzac Day remembrance takes two forms. Commemorative services are held at dawn – the time of the original landing in Gallipoli – across the nation. Later in the day, ex-servicemen and women meet to take part in marches through the major cities and in many smaller centres. Commemorative ceremonies are more formal and are held at war memorials around the country and in many other fields of conflict.
About The Burma Railway
The Burma Railway, also known as the Death Railway, was 415 kilometres Long from Ban Pong, Thailand to Thanbyuzayat Burma, built by the Empire of Japan in 1943, to support its forces in the Burma campaign of World War II. Forced labour was used in its construction. More than 180,000—possibly many more—Asian civilian labourers and 60,000 Allied prisoners of war (POWs) worked on the railway. Of these, estimates of Asian labourers who died are little more than guesses, but probably about 90,000. 12,621 Allied POWs died during the construction. The dead POWs included 6,904 British personnel, 2,802 Australians, 2,782 Dutch, and 133 Americans.
The brutal use of prisoners of war was one of the worst atrocities of the Second World War In Kanchanaburi, Thailand, a dawn service is held at Hellfire Pass, a rock cutting dug by allied Prisoners of War and Asian labourers. This cutting is where the greatest number of lives were lost during railway construction. The dawn service is followed by a “gunfire breakfast” (coffee with a shot (or two) of rum) recalling the ‘breakfast’ taken by many soldiers before facing battle. At 11 am a second ceremony is held at the main POW cemetery in the city of Kanchanaburi, where 6,982 POWs are buried, mostly British, Australian, Dutch and Canadians. Several museums are dedicated to those who perished building the railway.
The largest of these is at Hellfire Pass (north of the current terminus at Nam Tok), a cutting where the greatest number of lives were lost. An Australian memorial is at Hellfire Pass. Two other museums are in Kanchanaburi: the Thailand-Burma Railway Museum, opened in March 2003, and the JEATH War Museum. There is a memorial plaque at the Kwai bridge itself and an historic wartime steam locomotive is on display.
It doesn’t really matter how dismissive or dispassionate you may be, the Kanchanaburi experience effects anyone. From the immaculately maintained cemetery grounds to stark displays at the museums to the grim reality of Hellfire Pass, you will be humbled by a visit at any time of the year.
But this year the pilgrimage by the thousands of all ages who came to Kanchanaburi lifted sombre yet proud feelings and emotions to another level. But for me it wasn’t about the dawn candle-lit ceremony, the memories of Ex POW Neil McPherson OAM, the wreathlaying, the Reveille by the Royal Thai Army buglers, or mixing with the crowds swapping stories. Nor was it about the sausage sizzles, bar BQs, beers, big bikes burn-out, cricket or Aussie Rules football game.
For me ANZAC Day 2015 was about a poignant moment when I hesitated at the headstone of WX4267 Private J.P. Murphy, a soldier who lost his life in 1943 in a foreign land far from his home in North Fremantle, Western Australia. That’s my home town and that was when reality dawned as my ‘goose-bump’ time of reflection.