Mergui (Myiek) - Prachuab Kirikhan Escape Road - Thailand

Mergui (Myiek) Escape Road

This desperate task was to make a road through virgin jungle across the Tenasserim Peninsula between Prachuab and Mergui.

Prachuab Kirikhan is located approximately 230 kilometres to the south-west of Bangkok, roughly half way between Petchaburi to the north and Chumphon to the south on the peninsula part of Thailand shared with Burma. The camp at Prachuab Kirikhan was the base camp and from there the prisoners would move out to one of four jungle camps.

The object of this exercise was to cut an escape road approximately 150 kilometres through virgin jungle from the port of Prachuab Kirikhan on the east coast of Thailand to the port of Mergui on the west coast of Burma.  The Japanese were now retreating from Allied forces in north Burma and the tide was turning with Allied Naval fleets making their presence known.

1011 soldiers were selected by the Japanese Medical Officer Dr Higuchi for the workforce on this road commencing April 1945.  1000 men POWs were originally sent from Nakom Paton on 12 April 1945  and 11 Medical Officers and orderlies were sent from Tamuang.

By April 1945 the men had been POWs of Japan for 3 years.  They had all endured starvation, tropical illnesses and worked like slaves under the brutal Japanese regime on Burma Thai rail link.  They were in terrible physical and emotional condition and stood in pieces of rags no shoes carrying little in the way of personal items, having sold all they could for food and medicines.

To begin the construction of a road through dense jungle would have overwhelmed even the bravest man.

There were at least  7 men from 2/4th, and it is believed John Warren-Smith was the only one not to return.

WX10794 Percy Sturtbridge

WX10049 Mervyn Wilkinson – evacuated back to Nacompaton June 1945.

WX10048 Ted Cosson

WX7542 Greg Burdon

WX8765 John Warren-Smith – died Prachuab Kirikham 17 July 1945.

WX7261Bill Reeves

WX7248 Frank Thaxter

 

 

 

Those men recorded as being recovered from Prachaup Khiri Khan Area at the end of the war also included:

WX9134 Sumner P.J.

WX8441 Mellor, J.B.

This list is included in “Unsung Ordinary Men” by Sally Dingo and taken from affidavit of Major John Mason Stringer, War Crimes Trial of Japanese officers/NCOs involved in Mergui Road Episode, National Archives Kew, England.

They group travelled by train from Nacompaton to Ratburi where they changed trains due to the bridge having been destroyed by Allied Bombing.  The Railway line between Singapore to Malaya travelled through Chumphon, Prachuab Kirikham,  Petchaburi and Raturi to Non Pladuk, the starting point for Burma-Thai Railway. From Ratburi the men travelled south to Prachaub Kirikham which was the starting point of the escape road.

The work was mostly pick and shovel, carrying stones for the road bed, felling of trees and grubbing bamboo roots with at least three well constructed timber bridges.   The work hours were 0830 to 1900 hours and the prisoners were broken into parties of approx. 30 and assigned various tasks.

Rations were insufficient for manual labouring with very little meat. The appalling accommodation was bamboo huts which proved less waterpoof that those with atap roofs.  Also remember this is the last months of war and these men had already been POWs for nearly three years.  They had enduring starvation, speedo, had slave laboured with beatings and tropical illnesses which could not be treated as there were no medicines.

On the completion of the road Greg Burdon and Frank Thaxter marched out towards the Burmese coast pulling ox carts loaded with the sick.  They then cut an airstrip in the jungle for three C47 Dakota aircraft to land and firstly evacuate the British POWs to Rangoon.  Burdon and Thaxter with the remaining 2/4th, along with many others in the group were then flown north to Kachu Mountain Camp.  It was here Thaxter and Burdon  met up with Ted Cosson. (Wilkinson had already been evacuated to Nacompaton June 1945).     All the men from here were flown back to Singapore in September 1945.

This 1000 men work party resulted in an appalling 25% death rate throughout the five months.

 

 

Prachuap Kiri Khan, Thailand. c. 1945-10. Two members of the War Graves Commission survey party (left) standing under the attap roof of an open sided prisoner of war (POW) hut. Up to ninety Allied POW’s were routinely forced into huts of this size by the Japanese. The site, on the east coast of Thailand, was a staging camp on the Singapore-Bangkok railway for Allied prisoners of war being transported by train from Changi to construct the Burma-Thailand railway. In April 1945 a work party of 600 British, 120 Australian and 211 Dutch left Nakom Paton ( fifty six kilometres west of Bangkok) for Prachuap Kiri Khan 313 kilometres south of Bangkok on the east coast of Thailand. Approximately fifty per cent were selected from the hospital patients by the Japanese medical officer, Neguchi, who showed no regard for their physical condition. The group was given the task of completing a road which had been under construction by Japanese and native labour working eastwards from Mergui on the Burmese coast. This was to be an escape route for the Japanese forces who anticipated a push by Allied forces down the coast from Rangoon. The POWs engaged in this task suffered many hardships over the four month period, resulting in the deaths of over 250 men.

Location of Mergui (Myiek) - Prachuab Kirikhan Escape Road - Thailand (exact)