Articles

we shall not forget

In stories, wanderlust on December 29, 2006 by carinasuyin

The walking trail winds along the fringe of the Kwae Noi Valley, dipping and climbing with the topography of the terrain. Punctuated by embankments and cuttings, the gravel path is serenely surrounded by lush groves of bamboo on both sides, rustling like huge windchimes each time a gust of wind swirls across the forest. Walking along the gravel path, remnants of the railway track can still be seen- weatherworn wooden planks and rusty steel frames or tools. The air is cool and the breeze plays peek-a-boo with the graceful bamboo branches, affording breathtaking views of the valley framed by majestic trees with backlit leaves in the morning sun.

A view so calm and beautiful, it must have really hurt in the mornings.

The forest is breezy and sun-drenched but the air feels somewhat heavy. Often I couldn’t help but gaze into the bamboo forest on my right and wonder how many unmarked graves are still out there belonging to unnamed Asian labourers, Japanese soldiers and Allied POWs. Many of those who perished in the construction and maintenance of the Burma-Thailand Death Railway, built to facilitate the Japanese Imperial Army’s march towards India during World War II, died at an age younger than me.

Beyond the Konyu Cutting which is known as the Hellfire Pass, we walked in silence at our own pace most of the way. The experience of walking this historical trail was made significantly more personal by the numerous narratives and soundbites from ex-prisoners of war in the accompanying audio guide. It is amazing how the ex-POWs can look back at their sufferings with humour and not bitterness and many have long forgiven their captors. Many a times along the trail, I felt the warmth of not walking alone.

The gravel path still hurt my feet though they are shod in comfy shoes and we’ve only covered 2.5km along the trail. Pausing at the Hintok Cutting just overlooking where the three-tiered bridge used to be, I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to walk barefooted with feet that were often ulcerated or covered in sores over these sharp stones and uneven terrain. Imagine walking like that everyday from morning till night with heavy workloads, an ever present thirst, no proper meals except some watery rice gruel with maggot-infested condiments, accompanied by frequent diarrhea, threats of death by malaria, body-wasting dysentry, torture or injuries and a longing desire to be home with loved ones. It is even more overwhelming when you factor in monsoon rain and humid heat conditions as well as the heartbreakingly beautiful surroundings.

Another 2.5km later at the stairs leading back to the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum, my throat is parched and my leg muscles are really beginning to feel sore. Still catching my breath on the balcony overlooking the valley, I am humbled by the strength of the human spirit and its tenacious will to survive. That and the importance of peace are something worth remembering, always…

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2 Responses to “we shall not forget”

  1. The flickr link on the 3rd pic is wrong.. 🙂

  2. Hi tim! Hee… thanks for the alert; correction done 😛

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