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The True Story of the Bridge on the River Kwai

You've probably seen the 1957 move The Bridge On the River Kwai, but you might not know how much of the film was real and how much was fictionalized. The real history of how the railway between Burma and China was built, including the bridge, is a horrific story. The British didn't build the railway in the 19th century because it would be too expensive. During World War II, the invading Japanese took on the project, but expected it to take five years to complete. Those plans were drawn before they found a source of free labor: the Allied POWs. Because of the inhuman amount of labor forced on the prisoners, the railway line that was expected to take five years to complete was ready in only 16 months.
Starvation provisions, overloading of work, dismal or absent accommodation and sanitation, and the individual viciousness of Japanese and Korean engineers and guards, took their expected toll. Disease (predominantly dysentery, malaria, beriberi and cholera), brutality (69 men were beaten to death by their guards) and 12 to 18 hour daily work shifts made for a high death rate. In fact, the work went on 24 hours a day with the aid of oil pot lamps and bamboo/wood fires that were kept burning all night long. When looking down on the wok area at night it looked like working in the “jaws of hell” - thus the workers gave it the name “Hellfire Pass”.

Read the rest of the story at Environmental Graffiti. Link

(Image credit: ©Pascal Engelmajer)

I always thought the movie payed a strict homage to the atrocities via Alec Guiness, and his ordeal. Most folks think of the silly whistling scenes when recalling this film. I always think of his death scene, and his time in the box.
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There's actually no river Kwai (buffalo), it's the Mekong River. The Thai government actually renamed a small section of the Mekong "Kwai" for tourists after the movie caused people to go to Kanchanaburi looking for it.

Also, that section of the bridge that's shown in the picture was used in the movie Casualties of War in the scene where the Vietnamese girl the solders kidnapped was killed.
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Funny, when I think of Lavender Hill Mob or Kind Hearts and Coronets, I think of Alec Guinness himself, but when I think of Bridge over River Kwai, my memory has him in his Jedi robes.
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In reply to the comment by Angelo:- The rivers Kwai-Yai and Kwai-Noi meet at a confluence just south of Kanchanaburi, at which the combined rivers become the Mae-Klong. The Mekong is in Viet-Nam.
The section shown in the picture is not a part of the famous bridge, but part of the Whampo viaduct beside the river.
My father was one who came back, but many of his friends died as slave-labourers in the jungles around the railway.
The real Bridge on the River Kwai was nothing like the famous one in the film, it was an iron bridge on concrete piers. However, prisoners built numerous other bridges out of timber further up the line.
The reason the british did not build the railway when they first surveyed it was because of the predicted cost, not in money, but in human lives. The report stated that too many workers would die.
When the Imperial Japanese Army decided to build it, they used, to a great extent, the published british survey, but did not see the deaths of prisoners and natives, nor even their own troops as any sort of obstacle.
This is why it's said "a life for every sleeper" What you americans call "Railroad ties" we call sleepers.
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"The reason the british did not build the railway when they first surveyed it was because of the predicted cost, not in money, but in human lives. The report stated that too many workers would die."

That sort of thing never stopped the British government on civil engineering projects in Britain. It certainly didn't stop them in other foreign countries. The loss of life on these projects was seen largely as a financial impediment. It matters not whether you are talking about native labourers in foreign countries or Irish navvies in Britain itself, the attitude to their loss was only concern as to the impact on the project.
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