Revisiting the Burma Railway
In September 2002, I had a casual conversation with a fellow employee, Kerry Irving, regarding his upcoming vacation. He told me that he had always been interested in the history and geography of the wars in Southeast Asia, especially the Second World War, and that he was planning on travelling to the area. I told him that one of my uncles had died there as a Dutch prisoner of war; Kerry said he had never met anyone with connections to a Second World War POW in the Southeast Asian conflict.
I then told Kerry that I only knew this uncle from the many stories and memories my father had shared with us about his younger brother, and from the framed picture, hung in the hallway of my parents’ home, of Pieter wearing his uniform. Very few details were known about his demise, other than that he had succumbed to the horrific conditions while he was a forced labourer on the notorious Burma Railway. After the war, Pieter’s parents and siblings had to return to their families and daily lives. They tried several times to get more information about his death through the Red Cross, with minimal results.
Now, many years later, Kerry suggested that with the Internet being available, more details could possibly be found. To my amazement, Kerry came to me two weeks later with pertinent information regarding Pieter from the Netherlands War Graves Foundation.
In Holland, all able-bodied young men aged 18 had to serve in the army. At that time, they could volunteer for service in the Dutch East Indies (now known as Indonesia). Pieter volunteered and had to report for duty in April 1940. My newlywed parents saw him off to his train and were the last of his family to see him alive.
After being missing for seven decades, this Canadian soldier is finally laid to rest.