Building The Thai – Burma Railway

Building The Thai - Burma Rail Construction

This watercolour of the Burma Railway is owned by former Captain E.C.(Teddy) Dickson, and was painted in Changi by Des from a detailed description by Captain Dickson on his return to Changi after working on the railway. It was painted on the back of an old Changi prison duty roster sheet. Captain Dickson asked Des to paint it in order that there would be a record of the enormous effort and danger involved in the construction of the railway. Mr. Dickson, now (in 2012) 93 years old and living near Preston, England, has provided the following caption:

 ‘The pillars supporting the Burma Railway were tree trunks which had been dragged into position by elephants. You will notice that the sleepers were of varying length and different distances apart, making it perilous for those pushing the buggy wheels. If the terrain was uphill or downhill, this represented even greater danger as there were no brakes. Imagine doing that in the rain and in the dark.’

Source: Captain E.C. Dickson

“Thus, midst a welter of contradictory reports, bribery, corruption, faked sickness and genuine attempts to transfer hospital cases to better conditions, the first party – known as F Force – left Changi. It left with a large proportion of men who came direct from their beds in hospital, plus the piano, plus all sorts of paraphernalia suitable for a convalescent camp under a civilised foe.” (This was the first working party to go up country to build the Thai Burma Railway!!) ‘A short time later a second party was conscripted, H Force.”
Source: The Naked Island by Russell Braddon; 1955 edition Pan Books Ltd, Pg184

‘When we were reunited with F Force, there was no doubt that we at Changi had been to some degree deprived of necessary nourishment and it showed in our appearance, but the appearance of the survivors from F Force was such that we were absolutely shocked. They all looked like walking cadavers and gave the appearance of skeletons over which a yellowish – green skin, translucent and almost glowing, had been stretched. And these were the healthiest of the survivors. They were in good spirits at having arrived back to the comparative luxury of Changi, and told amazing stories of death and survival in the various camps along the railway.
Huge numbers had succumbed to tropical ulcers, meningitis, dysentery, dengue, malaria, fatal accidents and plain starvation. One of the major killers was cholera, and they told stories of comparatively healthy men contracting the disease and dying within twenty four hours before they eyes of their comrades. In some camps, fires were kept going twenty fours hours a day so that those who died from cholera could be burnt immediately in order to help prevent the spread of the disease.’
Source: You’ll Never Get Off The Island by Keith Wilson; 1989, Pg 89