Hellfire Pass ANZAC dawn service 2019
The Foundation was very proud to support LCPL Andrew Porter’s trip to Hellfire Pass for the ANZAC dawn service. Andrew is LCPL OSP, Royal Military College – Duntroon. His once in a life time experience begins two days before the dawn service.
On the 23rd of April 2019, I travelled to Kanchunberi
Thailand, to attend the local ANZAC day ceremony, on a stretch of railway that
would be later known as Hellfire pass. Seventy-six years ago, on this same
date, many Australian Prisoners of War (POW) were making their way to the same
destination. Unbeknown to them they were about to face some of the most extreme
and harshest working conditions imaginable to man, and commence work under
capture on the 25th April
(ANZAC Day ) 1943.
The digging and construction of a 150km section of the
railway started in 1942 by approximately 1500 British and 2000 Tamil POW’s,
later re-enforced by 400 Australians, allocated a 500m stretch of terrain
broken into two drilling sites, one 400m long 7m deep and the other 75m long
The work consisted of the drilling into the sides of
mountains to fill with explosives and removing heavy rocks and earth by hand.
Tropical and monsoonal weather made working conditions extremely difficult for
the Australian soldiers; other factors included malnourishment, starvation, and
torture. Using oil lamps, the prisoners of war worked late into the night, some
day’s 16-18hours. In June the same year, another six hundred Australians were
bought to Hellfire pass, as the Japanese deadlines to have the Thai-Burma
Railway completed increased. Many Australians and allied soldiers lost their
lives to slave labour, disease, starvation and beatings.
The name Hellfire symbolised the mistreatment and suffering
of Australian soldiers. The name Hellfire originated from the soldiers working
on the pass. They believed that the sight of the oil lamps and bamboo spot
fires along the track, coupled with the sound of drilling into mountainsides
and the view of hundreds of starving men shuffling rock, was the very image of
what they imagined to be hell. The mental resilience displayed by the men at
Hellfire Pass is a remarkable show of courage and mateship.
Hellfire pass became lost in the years after the war. The
Pass was rediscovered in the 1980s and care for it has now been taken over by
the Australian government. ANZAC day ceremonies are now held annually at the
Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum. A trail walk is located at Hellfire Pass, for
the public to get an understanding of what our brave friends and soldiers
endured and pay their respects.
We arrived at the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum around 2 A.M
and started the descent down hundreds of stairs to the start of the walking
trail in pitch black dark. The thick jungle canopy did not allow much natural
light to permeate through. The way through the pass was lit up by Bamboo oil
fires hanging in trees spaced along the track every 5m. The sound of the
hundreds of footsteps on the loose gravel through the pass itself was an
incredible and bone-chilling experience. Before the service was due to commence
at 5.30 A.M, we were to wait in silence for the guest of honour to arrive —
veteran and Prisoner of war 102-year-old Harold Martin.
Mr. Martin served at Hellfire pass in 1942-1943 under the
capture of the Japanese and guarded by as thousands of people made space in the
very narrow pass for a vehicle carrying Mr. Martin. Harold Martin also read the
ode when it was time, as the native birds around chirped as daylight shone
through the canopy, and at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we
will remember them. It was hard at this stage not to be overwhelmed with
emotion in an unforgettable experience.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Harold Martin and was
lucky enough to get a photo with him holding the wreath I laid on behalf of the
RAR Foundation. Who without the help and support this once in a lifetime
opportunity would not have been possible.
ROYAL MILITARY COLLEGE – DUNTROON