1987, 56 Minutes
In 1943, Allied prisoners of war (POWs) and Asian conscripts began working on the construction of the Thai-Burma railway. 'Hellfire Pass' is an infamous section of mountainous cuttings through which the railway passed. By the time the railway was completed, more than 100,000 men had died.
On Anzac Day more than 40 years later, a group of ex-servicemen from Australia, the United Kingdom and Holland returned to Thailand to dedicate 'Hellfire Pass' as a monument to those who died. Although the jungle has reclaimed much of the railway, the cuttings remain as a permanent memorial to the men who built them. This film is their journey.
The Australian contingent, in 1987 as in 1943, was led by Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop, who has become an Australian folk hero. During the war, Dunlop was the prisoners' camp commander and senior surgeon, providing inspiration for his men through his leadership and strength of character. Their admiration and love for him is undimmed and result in some of the most touching moments of the film.
The official itinerary of the trip was supposed to include some gentle sightseeing but a small group of veterans, including “Weary” Dunlop, decided to retrace the section of the line they had built. They wanted to try to find the site of Hintok Mountain camp, which had been their home during that horrific period when they were forced to work around-the-clock shifts in appalling conditions at the height of the monsoon season.
Many of the veterans were in their 70s when they made the trip and the trek through rough terrain in oppressive heat took its toll. The memories that were revived were often painful for the men and their families but, above all, Hellfire Pass shows the common bonds, the ability to keep a sense of humour even under the most trying conditions, and the lasting friendships that evolved during this terrible period of history.
A Film Australia Production. © 2011 National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.
Director: Graham Chase
Featured People: Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop
Running Time: 56 Minutes
Curriculum Links: Australian history - Australian Curriculum Year 10, World War II (1939-1945) 'The experiences of Australians during World War II'. NSW History Stage 5, Topic 4 'Australia and World War II - What were some of the experiences of Australians as a result of their involvement in the war?'