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1942-45 Pow Archive - The Bridge On The River Kwai - Death Railway For Sale

1942-45 Pow Archive - The Bridge On The River Kwai - Death Railway


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Signed & Inscribed

Sir Richard F. Burton

The Real Story - The Bridge on the River Kwai Archive of a British Prisoner of War
Death Railway Labourer
38 Months Servitude under Japanese
With Calendar of Days in Captivity until Freedom

Manuscript Accounts and Calendars Documenting Days in Captivity
Photographs of Kwai Bridge and POW Camp
Ephemera, Newspaper Clippings, Correspondence,
Military Service Papers and Identification

Thailand, 1942-1945. Archive of a young British Army officer whom, early in his service, was taken by the Japanese as a Prisoner of War to toil on the Burma Railway project, which was coined the Death Railway. Arthur Wesley Hill, driver for the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC), was in one of the earliest groups to arrive at Nong Pladuc and was involved in the construction of said POW camp, as well as an aerodrome in Udon, and also the Tamakhan Bridge popularly known as Bridge 277 or the Bridge over the Kwai.

Included are 44 photographs of which 8 show the POW camp and the Bridge over the Kwai, a 25 page diary on double-leafs plus a 2 page succinct dated chronology of events, 7 leafs forming a calendar of time in captivity, scant pencil sketches, assorted notes including fatality numbers, a manuscript journal of the Japanese language intelligence gleaned by a colleague, letters, telegrams, and third party means to attempt communication, numerous British Army service papers and booklets, Hill's pin-backed British Army service ribbon, several newspaper reports and clippings, ephemeral items of Asian origin and others to POWs in Thailand. Together with some personalia including scant correspondence with family and photographs, items relating to his later employment for the UK Post Office, a few military papers and two journals written by his brother Albert W.S. Hill who served with the Army in North Africa. In very good condition overall, approximately 165 unique items form a notable chronicle, the likes of which are seldom paralleled.

A voluminous archive of significant content, this Thailand-Burma Railway survivor's manuscript documentation records firsthand the sequence of events, while his collected ephemeral artifacts represent tangible icons of hardship and of hope in the most opprobrious sustained POW atrocity of the Pacific War.

Merely twenty-two years of age, and having been with the British Army for less than two years when captured by the Japanese Army, one is struck by the level of detail that Officer Hill saw fit to record in manuscript, including a cursory schedule of guards, a task which was surely difficult after the excessive hours of gruelling labour, harsh conditions and treatment, as well as ever-prying captor's eyes.

The prison camp at Nong Pladuc, which the officer would help build with his own hands, and where he would be detained and over-worked for two years and five months of his time as a POW, was reputed for cruelty, this at the hands of Korean officers enlisted by the Japanese. Known even more famously today is the Tamakhan Bridge over the Kwai River, erected by the forced labour of British prisoners and at the cost of many lives, the young officer was also made an instrument of its fabrication. Before seeing freedom, he would further be sent to Udon for the construction of another camp and an aerodrome.

A few highlights of the collection are as follows:

Original Photographs:
• 1 view of POWs constructing the Bridge over the Kwai
• 1 view of the bridge after having been bombed by the RAF
• 3 aerial reconnaissance views of the POW camps in Thailand
• 4 views of the Nong Pladuc camp
• 3 military photographs of the officer in uniform
• 33 family photos each delivered to the POW camp with Japanese census stamp to verso

Manuscript documents:
• A calendar created over several leafs logging his days in captivity
marking Saturday 25 August 1945 'FREEDOM'
• A 25 page diary on folded leafs headed 'E[vacuation]. Day and After'
which records the final tasks and movements of the prisoners and
contains an especially detailed account of their exodus to freedom
• Chronology of dated events, from captivity to freedom, single leaf text to recto and verso
• A 2 page vivid recollection of the funeral of his divisional commander,
Major-General Merton Beckwith Smith, who was beaten to his death by a Japanese guard
• Curious tables including names of Japanese soldiers present or absent on specific days
• Assorted pencil notes of casualties, etc.
• A transcript of a letter from General Wavell during the Fall of Singapore 1942
• Sketched chart of the officer's voyage with the army
• Manuscript journal of Japanese words by a fellow British Army intelligence officer

Excerpts from the manuscript chronology:
15 February 1942. "at 4 pm Sunday afternoon we capitulated. Prisoner of War."
3 December 1944. "...left for Tamakhan Bridge building"
21 February 1945. "Left LP 21st Feb for Ubon N. E. Thailand. Feb 26th arrived. Walked to 9KM camp built camp. Worked on Aerodrome construction."
18 August 1945. "rumours - War finished - packed up tools etc.. moved back to 9KM Camp (Camp holds 2999 men British Australian a few Yanks and Dutch). On the evening roll call Maj Chita the Japanese Camp Commandant informed us that the Great East Asia War had finished."
20 August 1945. "Monday first Allied plane we were pleased to see circled Camp, & dropped leaflets... 31st Aug. Stand by for ev[evacuation]... postponed..."
19 September 1945. "Allowed out of camp... 21st Aussies & first B.P. leave on EV." Excerpts from the manuscript account titled 'E[vacuation]. Day and After':
"We commenced our journey from Ubon P.O.W. Camp on the 24th Sept 45. at 2.30pm. We are in parties of 25s. Trucks arrived at this time and we all piled in... We had to cross the river for the [Udon] station, which we did in native canoes... At about 10.30 am we boarded the plane and took off. There is plenty of room inside these Dacks... We are now above jungle country one mass of greenery..."

• 3 telegrams, including one dated 22 September 1945 Officer Hill announcing his liberation
• 3 envelopes addressed to the officer as a POW, to routed through Tokyo, one to TAI Camp
• Family letters to officer Hill, and some to the Army for information on his whereabouts
• 1 letter to the officer's mother from and another mother looking for her son
• 2 confirmations of broadcasted messages via Vatican Radio

War and POW Ephemera:
• Newspaper clippings of POW related articles, one which names the officer as a missing person
• 3 issues of SEAC (SE Asia Command News): 'Special Edition for Our Liberated Comrades'
• Clipped Asian cigarette cartons
• Small gift tag from the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Korat, with Thai text to verso
• Cloth fragment with identification lettering in ink and Japanese stamp
• Corn husk sash or wrap with printed label
• 1 issue of the Burma Star News 27 September 1945
• Printed Japanese envelope which contained the officer's wedding ring upon confiscation
• Unofficial certificate to the Kurra Kurra Club formed at Non Pladuc camp for medical relief

British Army & Pacific War items:
• Numerous papers of the officer's military service, the majority of which pertains to his time in Thailand and which was on his person in POW Hut no. 8 at the infamously brutal Nong Pladuc, the lot spanning from 1939 to 1952, and comprising of items such as Soldier's Pay books, ration cards, personal identification and memberships, a Certificate of Transfer, medical records, a War Department Railway Warrant, and a Memorandum for Prisoners of War of United Kingdom Forces detained in the Far East.
• Officer Hill's pin-backed British Army service ribbon (1939-45 Star; Pacific Star; War Medal 1939-45), together with correspondence indicating the the process in receiving it, initially being denied the honour.

Arthur Wesley Hill, RASC Officer No. 163686, was born in Putney in 2 May 1914. He enlisted at Acton in West London in February 1940, and two months later was posted in France as a driver with the with A Echelon (Modified) 23rd Division Supply Column. Within two months he returned to Britain and was transferred to the 18th Division Supply Column, seeing service in Africa before embarking on the voyage to Southeast Asia which would have a dramatic impact on his life. Arriving in Singapore at a most lamentable time, only a few days before the surrender of British Forces in February 1942, Hill was immediately forced by the Japanese to walk to Changi, and from there to Thailand, where he and thousands other POWs would be forced by the enemy to labour on various projects relating to the Burma Railway, only to be the target of bombing by their own countrymen.

From 20 July 1942 to 2 Dec 1944, Hill was clearing land and building the camp at Nong Pladuc (Ban Pong). [This camp is where the Burma-Siam railway branched off from the Singapore-Bangkok line. The Nong Pladuc camp was the administrative centre of "Number One Group Thai POW Camps, It had become an important military location and as such saw frequent Allied bombing attacks. In response, Japanese troops had installed a battery of Anti-Aircraft guns, making this area particularly volatile. By October 1942 Koreans and Sikh guards arrived, the prisoners having described them as more sadistic then the Japanese, and eager to carry forward the punishment they had bore in their time of suppression by the latter. A large bamboo cane was carried by the guards, and used frequently.] December 3rd 1944, officer Hill was sent to the Tamakhan Bridge which was in need of repair from Allied bombing. There he would remain until January 1st 1945, affording us two photographs of the bridge. By February 21st he was at Ubon to buld the 9KM Camp and aerodrome. August 1945 would bring long awaited freedom, and better food, until evacuation day from Ubon September 21st. The following day he sent a telegram to his family announcing his safety, and finally arrived in England two months later. While a POW Hill suffered bouts of malaria and dysentery.

River Kwai and the Death Railway:
The Burma Railway, also known as the Death Railway, the Thailand-Burma Railway and similar names, was a 415 kilometres (258 mi) railway between Bangkok, Thailand, and Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar), built by the Empire of Japan in 1943, to support its forces in the Burma campaign of World War II. The line was closed in 1947, but the section between Nong Pla Duk and Nam Tok was reopened ten years later in 1957. The most famous portion of the railway is Bridge 277, 'the bridge over the River Kwai', which was built over a stretch of river which was then known as part of the Mae Klong. The association with the 'River Kwai' came from the fact that the greater part of the Thai part of the route followed the valley of the Khwae Noi, 'Khwae' being the Thai word for branch or tributary, although it is frequently mispronounced by non-Thai speakers as 'Kwai', the Thai word for Water Buffalo. The first wooden bridge over the Khwae Yai was finished in February 1943, followed by a concrete and steel bridge in June 1943.

According to Hellfire Tours in Thailand, "The two bridges were successfully bombed on 13 February 1945 by the Royal Air Force. Repairs were carried out by POW labour and by April the wooden trestle bridge was back in operation. On 3 April a second raid by Liberator bombers of the U.S. Army Air Forces damaged the wooden bridge once again. Repair work continued and both bridges were operational again by the end of May. A second raid by the R.A.F. on 24 June put the railway out of commission for the rest of the war. After the Japanese surrender, the British Army removed 3.9 kilometers of track on the Thai-Burma border. A survey of the track had shown that its poor construction would not support commercial traffic. The track was sold to Thai Railways and the 130 km Ban Pong-Namtok section relaid and is in use today."

From 1918 the Royal Army Service Corps was divided into Transport and Supply Branches. Before the Second World War, RASC recruits were required to be at least 5 feet 2 inches tall and could enlist up to 30 years of age (or 35 for tradesmen in the Transport Branch). They initially enlisted for six years with the colours and a further six years with the reserve (seven years and five years for tradesmen and clerks, three years and nine years for butchers, bakers and supply issuers). They trained at Aldershot.

‘Battle Gong’ cigarettes (which were made in the Thai factory using Virginia tobacco) were 25 cents for twenty. The Nips smoked a superior brand, ‘Sheeves of Rice’.


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