Mass grave found near Kwai bridge

Published Nov. 19, 1990|Updated Oct. 18, 2005

A mass grave has been discovered near the site where more than 100,000 Asian slave workers and Allied prisoners died building a railroad for the Japanese during World War II. The grave is about three miles from a bridge made famous in the 1957 Hollywood movie Bridge on the River Kwai, which celebrated the heroism of the war captives.

The grave is in a sugar cane field in Kanchanaburi province, about 70 miles west of Bangkok.

The remains of several hundred people, apparently Asians, had been dug up since Tuesday, when the excavation began. About half the plot had been excavated.

Several dozens workers were digging Sunday. White cotton bags, some filled with skulls, others with arm and leg bones, were piled high in a corner of the field. Incense filled the air, and an old woman rocked back and forth and chanted.

The excavation is being carried out by the Pothipawana Songkroh Foundation, which for religious reasons wants to provide proper burials. Thai Buddhists believe in reincarnation, and they believe that if the dead are not given rites, their souls wander forever.

"We believe they were bones of Asian people as the skulls found were not big," said Santi Assawaseeyotin, a foundation official.

There was no direct evidence any of the bones belonged to the Allied prisoners. No such remains have been found in Kanchanaburi in recent years.

Santi said the remains were being brought to the foundation's office in Bangkok, where they will be cleaned and cremated.

The 268-mile railroad line, connecting Thailand and Burma, was built by the Japanese in 1942-43 for their planned invasion of India.

More than 100,000 Chinese, Indian, Malay, Burmese and other Asian slave laborers lost their lives building the railway, along with more than 16,000 British, Dutch, Australian, American, and New Zealand prisoners of war. They died of disease, malnutrition, exhaustion, beatings and executions.

Older people in the area remember that the site was used as a detention camp during the war. "When the Indians (workers) died, they just carried them into the hole they dug up," said Pab Borngern, 77. "At the place where they found the bones, that was thousands of people buried there. Those people died because of fever."

The Bangkok Post quoted the landowner's sister, Lek Pailom, 64, as saying she was not concerned about a grave on her land until a neighbor, motorcycle repairman Sompong Charoenchai, started having dreams about troubled souls in the vicinity. He contacted the Buddhist foundation.