The Horrors of the Infamous Railroad
The war had broken out in Europe and was now also in the Pacific. After years of advances in China, in their quest for territory and raw materials, the Japanese had joined the Axis and were at war with the Allies. They quickly overran most of the Pacific and Southeast Asia, including the Dutch East Indies. The fighting resulted in heavy casualties and numerous POWs, mainly British, Australian, Dutch, and—after the Pearl Harbor attack—many Americans.
At some point, my family found out that Pieter was one of the POWs forced to build the notorious Burma Railway. The Japanese had made the strategic decision to build this railroad in order to supply their troops to the west and north more safely and efficiently. The plan was to construct more than 400 kilometres of tracks from Thailand, across the River Kwai into Burma (now Myanmar) and connect up to the existing railway in Northern Burma.
Many thousands of POWs, as well as local villagers, were forced to do the labour. The conditions were deplorable, the work was brutal, the terrain was mountainous or dense jungle, and food was minimal and often spoiled. Medical car and supplies were almost nonexistent. All of this resulted in the deaths of approximately 13,000 POWs and as many as 90,000 civilian labourers.
It has been estimated that during construction and continual maintenance of the track until the end of the war in August 1945, an average of 75 workers died each day from exhaustion, malnutrition and sickness. The dead were initially buried along the railroad. It is said that every railroad tie along the more than 400-kilometre track represents one death.
This remote facility on Lake Ontario was home to Canada’s top-secret spy school.