Tamarkan, Tha Makham 56.20km - Thailand

Tamarkan, Tha Makham 56.20km  – Thailand

Kanchanaburi is 5 km south of Tamarkan.




Tamarkan Camp is located on the east side of the River and near to the railway.  This is the reason POW Camps were destroyed and POW lives lost when the Allied Bombs raids took place.
Tamarkan was initially a work camp.  Commencing 26 October 1942 under Colonel Phillip Toosey British & Dutch POWs built two bridges a wooden one and a steel one across the River Kwai (Kwae Yai).


Above: Lt Col Phillip Toosey. Read further ***
Then towards the end of 1943 – large numbers of POWs began arriving from Burma – the men of ‘A’ Force.  Amongst them were the ill and dying – the train journey taking three days.
The very ill remained hospitalised in Burma – the medical staff nursing them in their final days,  Every man who could walk out of the camps did so.
It is the site of the  “Bridge on the River Kwai” and although the original bridge did not survive Allied bombing, the Thai and Japanese Governments together, rebuilt the existing River Kwai Bridge which today draws tourists from all around the world and great numbers of Thai visitors.
The course of the original railway continues to operate to Nan Tok Station.  A train ride attracts large numbers of tourists on its 3 trips per day journey.


Tamarkan was “the bridge camp”—the one made famous by David Lean’s lm The Bridge on the River Kwai, based on the novel by Pierre Boulle.i There were, in fact, two bridges built at Tamarkan: first a wooden one for pedestrian and motor vehicle tra c that served as a temporary railway trace until the permanent concrete and steel railway bridge could be completed just upriver of it. These bridges crossed the River Kwai only in Boulle’s imagination. The river they actually crossed was the Mae Khlong.
Tamarkan camp was established early in October 1942 by British POWs under the command of Philip Toosey, a British lieutenant-colonel in the Territorial Army. Immediately upon arrival, Toosey was ordered to have his troops start construction of two bridges over the Mae Khlong. Knowing that to resist would be futile if not fatal for his men, he obeyed.
With the POWs’ time and energy focused on bridge construction, only a few impromptu entertainments were performed in Tamarkan during late 1942 and early 1943. In February 1943, a thousand Netherlands East Indies POWs arrived to supplement the British labor force, and the wooden bridge was completed later that month.
As the steel bridge neared completion under the newly imposed “Speedo” regimen, Toosey reported that “the majority of the fit men were moved further up the line for more work.”1 Tamarkan was then converted into a hospital camp, where heavy sick from up country work sites could receive better medical care, be rehabilitated, and then be sent back up the line to work. The rest of these seriously ill POWs to arrive in Tamarkan were not Toosey’s own troops but from Groups II and IV who were kept overnight and then passed on to their base hospital camp at Chungkai across the river. Jack Chalker was one of the heavy sick in these groups.


By May, the steel bridge had been completed and was taking rail tra c. Now that the I. J. A. and their POW workers at Tamarkan were “relieved from the unbearable pressure” of their “Speedo” deadlines, the attitude and behavior of the Japanese toward the POWs changed from one of harsh discipline to one of near amiability.
“Concerts took place once a week,” John Cosford observed, noting the change. “After the hopeless, dispiriting experience of disease and death, the comparative cheerfulness was a great tonic to us.”
When the desperately ill among Toosey’s own troops—those sent up the line on work crews earlier—began arriving back at Tamarkan. He was shocked by their condition:
As a typical example I can remember one man who was so thin that he could be lifted easily in one arm. His hair was growing down his back and was full of maggots; his clothing consisted of a ragged pair of shorts soaked with dysentery excreta; he was lousy and covered with flies all the time. He was so weak that he was unable to lift his hand to brush away the flies which were clustered on his eyes, and on the sore places of his body.
One of Colonel Toosey’s goals as POW commandant at Tamarkan was to foster an atmosphere of “equality” between the officers and other ranks in his camp. To encourage this camaraderie, he refused to allow a separate officers’ mess and had all men eat together—a move not appreciated by officers in the regular army.
In late November, Toosey received orders to evacuate Tamarkan so it could be converted into a convalescent camp for A Force POWs arriving from Burma. Toosey’s heavy sick were sent to the hospital at Chungkai, and he, together with his light sick and t troops, was relocated to the supply depot and maintenance facility at Nong Pladuk, where he would take over command. During these relocations, the “Singapore entertainers” returned to their base camp at Chungkai. There they would rejoin others from the original Mumming Bees troupe.1
By the end of November/early December, Tamarkan awaited its new arrivals.


Photograph of the bridges over Khwae Mae Khlong taken adjacent to  Tamarkan POW Camp – Steel bridge lies derelict in the background. Photo courtesy of unknown British engineer post war.

Tamarkan No. 2 Hospital Camp
This was one of 3 base Hospital Camps at the southern end of the railway and opened in May 1943.
The camp was 60 yards from the bridge of eleven steel spans and a large AA position.  The camp was surrounded by observation post, Japanese engineers, cavalry camp and the railway line.  The camp was surrounded by targets for Allied bombing raids!  On 29 November 1944, 21 planes bombed the area and 4 dropped on the camp killing 18 POWs and wounding 37.
There were further Allied raids during December.  The wooden bridge was destroyed and repaired by POWs.
The POW Camp Commanders complained continually to the Japanese to no avail to have the men moved to safer Camp sites.
The main steel bridge was bombed several times causing considerable damage.
By March 1944 the majority of POWs were brought out of the jungle work camps and so-called hospital camps (these camps were without medical supplies and equipment) and the men were concentrated in the main camps at Nacompaton, Non Pladuk, Tamuang, Kanchanaburi, Tamarkan and Chungkai.
Large numbers of POWs had arrived during the previous months – the Japanese wanted to build up the strength of the men in preparation for selection of work parties for Japan.  POWs for work parties for Japan were selected from Tamarkan.
Tamarkan was considered one of the better camps it was well run by a British Officer Col. Phillip Toosey and was well provided by a secretive Thai network of business men, expats and others as well as bankers all of whom risked their lives and those of the families.
On 23 May 1944 was the first time Red Cross parcels were passed onto the prisoners – 6 men to one parcel!  For many POWS their first mail was received at Tamarkan on 28th May 1944.
On one occasion two officers and six other ranks escaped from the camp into the jungle. This caused a terrible scene and Saito, second-in-command at the camp knew that the deeply-feared Kempei Tai (the equivalent of the Gestapo) would be called in to investigate. Toosey realised the implications of this so took responsibility for the men’s escape. He told Saito he and he alone had known of their intentions to run away (they were later all caught by the Japanese and executed). Saito beat him severely and ordered him to stand to attention for 24 hours in the full heat of the sun, badly knocked about. It was a public punishment intended to humiliate him in front of his own men but it was also for the benefit of the Kempi Tai who would not feel the need to investigate further, thus sparing the camp a much worse fate. Through this and various other contretemps, Saito and Toosey developed a mutual respect and understanding.
At the end of the war Toosey was called to screen camp commanders for war crimes. It was here that he came face to face with Saito for the last time. To the guard’s intense surprise Toosey shook him by the hand and told him he was free to go. In his opinion, Saito had treated the POWs firmly but fairly. Thirty years later Saito wrote to him: ‘I especially remember in 1945 when the war ended and when our situations were completely reversed. I was gravely shocked and delighted when you came to shake me by the hand as only the day before you were prisoner. You exchanged friendly words with me and I discovered what a great man you were. You are the type of man who is a real bridge over the battlefield.’


‘A’ Force sick arrived from Burma to Tamarkan December 1943
For the sick who arrived on train after travelling 3 days from 55km camp Tamarkan was sanctuary.  The journey was a nightmare and they were hungry, thirsty and dying.
Brigadier Varley was quartered at Tamarkan.  He made tremendous efforts to better conditions for his ‘A’ Force men for whom he was responsible.  The Japanese adhered to ‘sick mans do not eat’ policy and Varley fought tirelessly.
Those men of 2/4th who died at Tamarkan Hospital whilst Toosey was in charge included:
WX8870 GITTOS, Thomas Edwin of ‘D’ Force S Battalion died post leg amputation and dysentery 25 Sept 1943 aged 23 years.
WX8007 KING, Edric Herbert of ‘D’ Force S Battalion died 12 November 1943 of pulmonary tuberculosis aged 32 years.



2/4th who died at Tamarkan Hospital Camp:

WX8855 Davies, David John died cerebral malaria 10 July 1944 aged 37 years.  Davies was AWOL at Fremantle and sailed to Java, joined ‘Blackforce’.  Left Java with ‘A’ Force Burma, Java Party No. 4 Williams Force.  He departed 133 km Camp and arrived Kanchanaburi 13 Jan 1944.
Davies had been selected ‘fit’ by Japanese to work in Japan.  Marched out with Party on 27 June 1944, however returned sick on 5 July 1944.
His funeral was conducted by Chaplain F.C. Corry of 2/4th MGB, assisted by Lt-Col Green and Lt. C. Blakeway.


WX6071 Willacott Leslie George (aka Leslie George Willacott Williams) with Green Force he was evacuated to Tamarkan.
He died 7 Feb 1944 of malaria and dysentery aged 36 years.  His Grave No G28.  Whilst at Ye Aerodrome, Burma Willacott underwent an  appenddix operation on 20 Sept 1942.  During the fighting in Singapore he was WIA at Hill 200, Ulu Padan on 12 Feb 1942 and admitted to 2/13th AGH with gunshot wound to his right leg.  Discharged to unit on 21 Feb 1942.


WX7429 Yensch, Frederick Bernard (Freddie) d. cerebral malaria on 19 Mar 1944 aged 29 years.  He was being entrained between Nikhe and Tamarkan on 18 March 1944 when he drifted into a coma.  His Grave No. G2 Tamarkan.

Former shop assistant Freddie enlisted AIF 6 Aug 1940.  He later joined HQ Coy.  No. 3 Platoon.


The Life of Phillip Toosey
Toosey, who was born in Upton Road, Oxton, Liverpool, England worked for Baring Brothers merchant bank in Liverpool and was a member of the Territorial Army.
When war broke out in 1939 he immediately left his Merseyside home and saw action in Belgium before being evacuated at Dunkirk.
In 1941 he was sent with his unit to the
 Far East and fought in the defence of Singapore, he refused evacuation so he could remain with his men, and was held captive by the Japanese until the surrender in August 1945.
Brigadier, British Army. Veteran of World War II.  Toosey was appointed a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his participation in the defence of Singapore, appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1955, and in 1974 he received a knighthood.
Below is a contribution by Toosey’s grandaughter, Julie Summer, author of the book “The Colonel of Tamarkan, Philip Toosey and the Bridge on the River Kwai”.
After the war Toosey had spoken up for one of the Japanese officers, Sergeant Major Saito, saying that he had been strict but fair in how he treated prisoners.
“I don’t think he did hold a grudge, however I do not think he was very comfortable with the Japanese,” Julie Summers says.
However the memories of the camps never left Toosey, and when Saito made contact by telephone during a visit to England the experiences came flooding back, “He was very troubled by that telephone call when Saito tried to call him from London,” says Julie.
“Saito began to jabber in Japanese and
 was profuse in his thanks for everything
 the old man had done for him and I think 
that brought back a lot of the horrors of what had happened in the prison camps.
“So I don’t think he ever completely came to terms with whether he’d chosen to forgive.
“He certainly was never going to forget what happened in the camps.”
His concern for his men continued after the war and back in Liverpool Philip Toosey worked closely with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine to help ex-prisoners with their ailments, eventually becoming President of the school.
“He very quickly realised that the main problem for the prisoners of war were recurring tropical diseases and particularly for the gut related ones which were very debilitating,” explains Julie.
“So he had a sort of informal agreement with the School of Tropical Medicine from the late 1940s and 50s onwards, and then that was put on to a formal footing in the 1960s.
“He became President in the 1960s and my grandfather realised that what the school needed more than anything else was money.
“He had the idea of bringing in vice presidents in, and he got some wealthy and important vice presidents whose job it was to open doors so the school could raise money and it did – it raised millions under his leadership.”
Philip Toosey became High Sherrif of Lancashire and in 1974 was knighted, he died on 22 December 1975, the Territorial Army Barracks on Aigburth Road in south Liverpool is named The Brigadier Philip Toosey Barracks in his honour.

Soldiers that were in this camp

Location of Tamarkan, Tha Makham 56.20km - Thailand (exact)