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 early arrived POWs at Tamuang were busy constructing huts for 10,000 men on the site which was originally a tobacco plantation. SoonPOWs successfully scrounged tobacco from surrounding countryside for sale or for themselves.
POWs travelled in trains on the tracks they had constructed and frequently sabotaged. At times this proved quite srressful 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. It was constructed to hold 10,000 POWs.
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 the Japanese selected POWs considered fit to travel to Japan. 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. There were more and more trains arriving from Burma filled with badly wounded Japanese soldiers who had no supplies or water. The soldiers were terrified of these unexpected Europeans and were rarely accompanied by doctors/nurses. The POWs took them water and cigarettes. The Japanese would not care 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 various work 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 mostly they worked under ‘speedo’ conditions. By this time in the war there was less and less food available.
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.