Kanchanaburi’s Don Rak War Cemetery

Kanchanaburi War Cemetry

In the 50 previous years of my life I never once imagined I would stand before so many graves in a country so far from my homeland. The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery truly moved me.

War graveThere are 6,982 graves at the Don Rak War Cemetery in Kanchanaburi town, here rest the remains of those who died during the construction of the Thai – Burma Death Railway. Of those the names of 138 remain unknown.

Today is Remembrance Day which is also referred to as Poppy Day and Armistice Day. Remembrance Day is commemorated by the Commonwealth of Nations and pays tribute to the Commonwealth war dead. Of the 6,982 graves in the Don Rak War Cemetery over 3,500 are British and more than 1,300 Australian but lest not forget those outside of the Commonwealth. 1,896 Dutch prisoners of war lie under the soil in this peaceful and well manicured cemetery. There are many from other nations too.

The cemetery was designed by Colin St Clair Oakes and created by the Army Graves Service shortly after World War II on land donated by citizens of Kanchanaburi town. Nowadays the cemetery is supported by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). The CWGC is made up of six member states –  Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom whose governments give grants to help fund a large proportion of the costs of maintaining approximately 2,500 war cemeteries and memorials around the world.

There are no headstones inside the Don Rak War Cemetery. Due to the heat, humidity and at times extreme rainfall, more weather resistant flat pedestal markers bear the names of the sons, brothers and husbands many of whom died early into their adult life. They perished in the jungle work camps and under a harsh, brutal work regime countless died toiling alongside their fellow prisoners. Their buried remains were retrieved from shallow graves under and alongside the railway track and brought to Kanchanaburi town.

Rest In PeaceOn a day such as today many younger people tend to think about Remembrance Day as a time to pay respect and give thought to those who died in battle and quite rightly so. There are however many hardy spirits resting in graves around the world, whose hearts should have kept ticking long after the declaration of peace if their captors had shown compassion instead of  using torturous, distressing and harrowing means.

Two graves in the cemetery hold the cremated remains of 300 prisoners who died from a cholera outbreak in 1943 at their Nieke prison camp. A bronze plaque over each grave bears the inscription ‘ HERE ARE BURIED THE ASHES OF THE 300 SOLDIERS WHOSE NAMES ARE INSCRIBED IN THE MEMORIAL BUILDING IN THIS CEMETERY.’ The plaque is inscribed in bold capital for those very brave, bold men.

There were over 12,000 allied prisoners of war who died working on the Thailand – Burma Railway and they are buried in three cemeteries, Don Rak, Chungkai (Kanchanaburi) and Thanbyuzayat (Myanmar), each one is supported by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. To close my post I would like to honour those brave souls and the estimated 80,000 – 100,000 Asian labourers who lost their lives working on the railroad by quoting an epitaph that is carved into a cemetery headstone in Kohima which is in the north eastern border state of Nagaland, India.

The epitaph is in memory of the British 2nd Division who fought the Japanese in the Battle of Kohima in 1944 during the Second World War. The words are attributed toJohn Maxwell Edmonds (1875-1958).

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,

For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.

Wherever you may be today, tomorrow or hereafter, touch, hold and cherish the fragrance of a single flower and through your silence remember those who gave their lives for our today.


I'm a sixty-year-old Englishman living in the town of Swindon in rural Wiltshire and I have a real deep desire to retire in Thailand one day. If you don't have a dream then you won't have a dream come true.

10 Responses

  1. malcolm says:

    Martyn, a very wonderful and very heart moving post , I go often to the cemetry in Kanchanaburi,because our church Hope of Kanchanaburi is right next to it. The first time I actually took the time and walked thru the graves and read some of the stones , I found myself crying , for the men and boys who gave their lives yesterday for our today. We have a rememberance day and poppy day in America as well, and my Father Malcolm H. Burgess Sr. served in WW11 and was buried with military honours and my family there in the US will go and pay our respect and loving thoughts to our Dad and those who died and gave their lives for us and the freedoms we have today . I remember somewhere reading a ouote by someone in relations to those who died in the various wars, it was “Never Forget”. I hope and Pray we never do . Malcolm
    .-= malcolm´s last blog ..SOUL SEARCHING =-.

  2. Mike says:

    Martyn very appropriate. I too have visited Don Rak. I also found it a very moving experience.
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..The Demons of Suvarnabhumi Airport =-.

  3. Talen says:

    Excellent piece Martyn and perfect timing. We should always be reminded of those that gave their lives to make the world a better place for us.

    Hopefully more and more people see this cemetery and others like it and say ” no more”.
    .-= Talen´s last blog ..Boosting Thailand Tourism? =-.

  4. Siam.Rick says:

    Beautiful piece, Martyn. Stories like these need to be told every year at this time, Lest We Forget. I stood in remembrance myself at precisely 11 this morning.

    My father was among those who liberated Holland. He never spoke, refused to, in fact, of the war. But we should not be silent.
    .-= Siam.Rick´s last blog ..Are you a traveller or a tourist? =-.

  5. Hoo Don says:

    Thanks for your comments but I’m going to leave it to you and your thoughts on this one as I feel that is appropriate for this particular post.

  6. Catherine says:

    Martyn, what a wonderful post.

    Whenever I’m in Kanchanaburi, I honour the dead from the RR. Sometimes I go to Hell Fire Pass. Other times to the Thai museum along the river.

    The last time I was there, I took my dear friend from the UK. Her father, a pilot in that war, was one of the prisoners working on the railroad.

    It seriously changed his life and the lives of his children.

    I know she would love your post, so I will show it to her when I’m visiting next (she is not one for the Internet, so it will have to wait).
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Sesame Street Turns 40 =-.

  7. Adullamite says:

    Excellent post.
    .-= Adullamite´s last blog ..Gargoyle =-.

  8. Catherine says:

    Martyn, I stopped by the cemetery to pay my respects on Monday afternoon. It was mostly empty, but there were a handful of westerners making their way through the graves.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Learn Thai with Psycho-Cybernetics =-.

  9. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine there was only a handful of visitors on each of the two occasions I was there but I guess the cemetery gets lots of people turn up some days. I would imagine coach parties probably visit from time to time.

  10. Australian Government Grants says:

    🙁 very deep and moving!

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