Tamuang, Tha Muang 39k - Thailand
Photographs taken October 1945.
Tamuang, Tha Muang 39k – Thailand
By March 1944 the majority of POWs were brought out of the jungle work camps and so-called hospital camps (they had minimal if any medical equipment, supplies,) and were concentrated in the main camps at Nacompaton, Non Pladuk, Tamuang, Kanchanaburi, Tamarkan and Chungkai.
The advance parties of POWs at Tamuang were busy constructing huts for 10,000 men. The site which was originally a tobacco plantation. It was not long before POWs successfully scrounged tobacco from surrounding countryside for sale or for themselves. With tobacco funds the POWs could buy extra food. With great delight they carefully planned and stole and cooked ducks owned by the Japanese. Life was considerably easier than the previous months on the line. (Some 100s and 100s of POWs had been sent back to the rail line to do repairs, and these groups were again subject to little food and medicines. There were no doctors.
POWs travelled in trains on the tracks they had constructed and frequently sabotaged to Tamuang. At times this proved quite stressful for the men who were now passengers – wondering if they would arrive at their destination at all! The locos were burning wood instead of coal. It was not uncommon to have the Japanese call up 100s and 100s of POWs to push trains, filled with loads unable to travel over the poor gradients, particularly up hills and round bends.
The camp was near to a small railway siding and recognisable by a brilliant flame tree near the entrance. Tamuang was makeshift but clean. It was well laid-out and generally work was light.
With the arrival of large numbers of POWs came many doctors and medical orderlies.
The were a considerable number of Japanese accommodated here. Following the initial settling in, life was reasonable compared to speedo of earlier months. Now Allied air attacks began and the Japanese constructed a watch-tower manned 24 hours daily to keep watch for planes.
Tamuang was also one of the camps from which Japanese selected POWs considered fit to travel to Japan to work. In
September 1944 the Japanese announced 2,000 of the fittest men were to be sent to Japan. This news alarmed the POWs who were well aware of Japan’s setbacks in the war, Allied forces were gaining ownership of smaller islands and would be monitoring the passageways by sea to Japan. This order required fairness and each unit in Tamuang allocated a number of their men to make up the quota.
The parties boarded trains to Singapore, including ‘Byoki Maru’.
There were more and more trains arriving from Burma filled with badly wounded Japanese soldiers who had no supplies or water or food. Fitghting the final last battle in Burma against the British and Allies had been long and resulted in huge loss of life and injured. It was the turning point of the war. The Japanese were no longer advancing and now in retreat.
The injured and sick soldiers were terrified of these unexpected Europeans and rarely accompanied by doctors/nurses. The POWs took them water and cigarettes. The Japanese did not provide for their own men. POWs often carried wounded Japanese to the Japanese hospital at Tamuang. Shame was associated with being wounded. Many wounded committed hari-kari. One wonders if any left Thailand let alone arrive back in Japan.
In December 1944 Japanese began assembling parties for active work – building defences and handling war materials mostly throughout Thailand. They were often subjected to Allied Air attacks resulting in injuries and deaths. No Doctors or medicines were sent with these POWs and they worked mostly under ‘speedo’ conditions. By this time in the war there was less and less food available.
Several work parties were assembled in Tamuang and sent to construct roads through virgin jungle and remote areas (roads were in fact being prepared Japan’s retreat). 1,000 men were sent to make a road across the Tenasserim Peninsula between Prachuab and Mergui.
Their living and working conditions were appalling and resulted in a 25% death rate within five months.
Another group of about 400 POWs was sent from Tamuang to build a road running westwards from the rail at Wampo to Tavoy on the west coast of Burma. These survivors were picked up by the Allies in 1945. They were in shocking physical health, probably the worst experienced by recovery teams in Thailand/ Burma.
Next the Japanese ordered POW officers be separated from their men (to diminish morale and reduce any organised action against the Japanese.) The officers were sent to Kanchanaburi. Doctors managed to stay behind.
The Officers and men had been together for several years since leaving Singapore and for the most part had survived horrific challenges. Initially in Singapore the Allies persuaded the Japanese that keeping the POW officers and men together reduced the number of Japanese guards required for day to day disciplinary action.