Flashing forward a few months, and all the attention is on the Hellfire Pass site in Thailand, where the POW-built Thai-Burma railway passed through. Again there's plenty of controversy over renovations at the sight, with the suggestion being made that the ashes of Edward "Weary" Dunlop are being disturbed with the movement of a short stretch of railway tracks, which was part of the actual railway constructed in 1942 (from The Age):
The son of Australian war hero Edward "Weary" Dunlop yesterday criticised the "desecration" of his father's ashes at Hellfire Pass in Thailand.
Alexander Boyd Dunlop, the elder of Dunlop's two sons, said the family was upset that it had not been consulted before the ashes were disturbed on the Burma railway site where his father famously saved other POWs.
"The work shouldn't have been started without any consultation with relatives," Mr Dunlop, 56, said from the family's cattle property at Smiths Gully, near St Andrews, north-east of Melbourne.
The original rails and sleepers that covered his father's ashes at the Hellfire Pass site have been removed and replaced with a granite and sandstone memorial.
I've become quite personally engaged in this particular bit of WW2 history since I visited the Hellfire Pass site in December last year.
Firstly, a bit of background. During the Second World War Japan had control of both Thailand and Burma, and used Allied PoWs, as well as unwilling local Thais, Malays and Burmese, to construct a railway from Bangkok to Rangoon. The initial estimations said it would take 5 years to construct the 415km railway, but with slave labour and torturous techniques, the railway was completed in just 16 months. Thousands of soldiers died in the process, mostly through malnutrition, disease and construction accidents.
One of the most dangerous and forboding stretches of railway was the part that stretched through a large rocky area, which has since become known as Hellfire Pass. The rock is tremendously long and tall, and given that the path had to be carved away using only manual tools, it is an awe-inspiring effort. The labour involved was backbreaking, and the finished product sees the railway wind smoothly through the pass, with two tall, intimidating walls of rock on either side. The name 'Hellfire Pass' arose due to the strange light the PoWs would see at night as the moon, the stars and their campfire was reflected in the rock.
Nowadays, the site is a memorial to those who worked and died in the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway. A stylish meseum on the site documents the tremendous strain that the PoWs were under and the ruthlessness of the Japanese soldiers.
Next door, at the Pass itself, a small stretch of railway sleepers still sits in its original location. To get there requires visitors to walk down several long flights of stairs, a journey which itself reminds visitors of just how tall and large the rock was that was carved away to make Hellfire Pass. Whilst the site itself is unremarkable, seeing it as it was more than 60 years ago when it was first built is an effective, simple reminder of what an amazing achievement it was. Though it is not clear at the site, this was also where "Weary" Dunlop had some of his ashes scattered in 1994.
It seems a great shame to disturb the site, given that the simple elegance that previously existed. Regardless of the disrespected to Sir Edward, there is no need to install a granite stone monument. Other sites nearby - the War Cemetary in Kanchanaburi, the bridge over the River Kwai, the PoW museum - all have appropriate memorials, and there is little need for another one, especially when it disturbs the resting state of the site. Leave the place alone.