Tha Makhan
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Tha Makhan-Sign

    Tha Makhan


    Also Named:





Tha Makham







Railway Line - 10b 





Railway Line - 10b


Tha Ma Kharm



Railway Line - Green 30b
















9th Railway Regiment










I Group

Sep 42 - Apr 43




III Group

Dec 43 - Mar 44












Commencing 26 October 1942 under Colonel Phillip Toosey British and Dutch POWs built two bridges a wooden one and a steel one across the River Kwai (Kwae Yai).

Plan of Tha Makhan

Plan of Tha Makhan

Supplied by Rod Tempel

To enlarge click on map

Plan of Cemetery




train at Tamarkan02

Train Passing Over the Wooden Bridge at Tha Makhan

The photo is available from

Bridge on the Kwai Yai (Mae Klong River)

The bridge, as mentioned in Pierre Boulle’s book and later film, were built over the Kwae Yai (the Little Kwai), also known as Mae Klong River, and not the River Kwai as suggested in the film. Kwai is translated as River, so the title of the book would be ‘Bridge Over the River River’. To be correct, it should have been titled, ‘Bridge Over the Kwai Yai’ the Kwae Noi (the big Kwai) had no bridge.

In the early 1960’s tourism began to thrive and the Thais changed the name of the Kwae Yai to the Kwae Noi to make the book more believable to the tourist.

The Japanese organised the prisoners into work gangs of about twenty in each called kumis, two or more kumis were called a han. The kumis leader was called a kumichos and the han leader a Hanchos, these were usually officer-prisoners.


Leo Rawlings

© Copyright J. Mullender

The Japanese required two bridges at Tha Makhan, the first being a bridge built of wood, fifty feet above the Mae Klong River, near where it joined the Khwae Noi with a 800 foot span. The piles were huge and the men had to wade all day in waist deep water.

A primitive pile driver was used to knock in the uprights. This was a metal weight supported on a timber frame using pulleys. The prisoners had to pull on the ropes to raise the weight high enough to knock the timbers in, Ichy, Ni, San, Yon, on the shout of Yon the rope was released.Typical work gangs consisted of the following, a group hauling the teak timbers from the river bed thirty feet below using pulleys, another work gang carrying and stacking the timbers, a work gang sitting on the ground cutting the ends of the piles into sharpened points,  another work gang breaking stones and piling them, an organised hive of activity and the worst job of all pulling on the ropes using the pile driver.
The entire bridge was built around those sunken piles which were not treated, so as soon as they were laid the beetles started borrowing into them, the bridge was therefore very temporary.


Steel bridge construction

The photo is available from

The next was a concrete and steel construction to withstand air raids, the Japanese had a bridge in Java dismantled and transported eleven of its 72 foot steel spans to Thailand.


The work and poor food paid its toll and the number of graves in the cemetery grew.



Sweet Kwai Run Sweetly by Stephen Alexander

The Bridges at Tha Makhan

The POW Camp can be seen top left.

The photo is available from

We were to build a concrete and steel bridge over the Kwa Yai, (big stream), five Kilometres beyond the end of the metalled road at Kanburi, near Tarmarkham (Tha Ma Kharm, the ‘Ferry of the Tamarind’). The camp was above flood level and had just been built by an advance party of Argylls and Gordons from Poodu gaol, Kuala Lumpur. There were five long attap huts, each holding - packed tight - three hundred men.

Major Roberts of the Argylls got away with hitting a Korean guard in a moment of exasperation. Two subalterns, Kenny Mcleod and Ian Primrose, were extrovert types, they perfected a cabaret act of wrestling in mud to enliven the odd camp concert.

Water was supplied by a mechanical pump, and firewood from the woods not far away. There was just room beside the huts for a soccer ground, and then came the closely controlled fence.

Padre Robertson was re-christened by Mike Cory-Wright and Seymour Dearden, as the ‘Dizzard of Doulten’.

The Kwa Yai was pretty with ‘pom-poms’ puttering busily up it and huge rafts of bamboo floated down: little boys bathed buffalos and brightly clad women washed clothes, their smiles neutralised by mouthfuls of blood-red betel nut. Near the bank grew coconut palms, mangoes, papaya, pommeloes and bananas, beyond the trees were fields of maize and tobacco. Two farms on the further bank were happy to sell all these things as well as biscuits and eggs. Now and again the Nips would have an anti-black market blitz and the prisoners would be searched when entering the camp.

The commandant of the camp was Lieutenant Takasaki, known as the ‘Frog’.

Among the guards was a Korean known as the ‘Undertaker’ who’s real name was Kaneshiro.

Pay at Tamarkham reached thirty Japanese dollars a month, eggs cost 5 cents, corn cobs three for 5 cents and ‘Battle Gong’ cigarettes (which were made in the Thai factory using Virginia tobacco) were 25 cents for twenty. The Nips smoked a superior brand, ‘Sheeves of Rice’.

The work was to make a trace each side of the Kwa Yai river, building a temporary wooden bridge, later to be replaced by a steel bridge using imported girders from Java on eleven concrete piles further upstream. The tools used were picks, chunkeols, shovels, baskets and stretches (for carrying earth, sand and pebbles), axes and adzes, hand trucks, hand pile drivers, and later crete-mixers (made in Britain) and grabs.

The pile drivers for the wooden bridge was slung  from a pulley on a wooden scaffolding between two barges and worked by about twenty ropes on each barge, to the sound of a Nip engineer chanting one, two, three, four in a musical tone, but of course in Japanese. The prisoners pulling on the ropes with every pull giving a longer swing and the weight then came down on the pile. This went on for hour after hour.

The worst job was unloading the metal rails from barges, each rail needed ten sized off pairs of men to lift it using iron pincers with the pair, each side, taking the weight on their bent elbows. They then had to be carried up the bank.

About the end of February 1943 the wooden bridge was finished and the first train crossed.

Toosey approached the Frog and the Jap engineers, to let the prisoners organise themselves, this was agreed and Toosey set to work and it did ease the workload. There were some dark accusations of ‘Jap-Happiness’. but it did insure that everybody did their fair share with no skiving by some, making it easier for everyone.

The steel bridge piles were built using double ring wood moulds sunk into the river bed and sand, pebbles and concrete poured in untill the foundations and then the piles to hold the steel girders were built using shaped moulds on the foundations, a scaffolding was then built. This is were the concrete mixers were used. a Large ramp had queues of men with baskets full of sacks of sand, pebbles and cement and these were fed into the moulds. One of the guards was named ‘Angelo’, which is a corruption of hanchau or squad leader, another was ‘Jack Oakie’ he was a very good swimmer

Toosey even gave up wearing a shirt, but his shorts were always well pressed and had a waistband with a little tag bearing his crown and two pips on it.

I left Tamarkham in May 1943 and missed the grand opening of the bridge to traffic.

Taken from:

Sweet Kwai Run Softly by Stephen Alexander

Published 1995 by Merriotts Press


When we arrived at Makham a wooden bridge was under construction, taking from October 1942 to February 1943 to be completed. A short distance away a steel bridge was later erected and was finished during May 1943. When it is considered that the bridge was 250 metres long, the work of erecting it by hand is appreciated.

Information from Unknown to the Emperor by J.R. Hill


December 1942

The Japanese camp commander was Lieutenant Kosakata and he got on well with Col. Toosey.

The camp at Tamarkan had five long attap huts, each housing 300 men. Colonel Toosey was the commanding officer and to stop the lack of effort , by a few, putting more work on others he cooperated with the Japanese, this led to a fairer distribution of the workload.

Tamarkan had a parameter fence but this was not a deterrent, prisoners left the camp at night to trade with the local Thais.

The Japanese allowed the prisoners and their own men to bathe in the river although there were crocodiles. When Cholera hit the camps, bathing was forbidden.

January ‘43

In a letter to his wife Charles Steel wrote that five new huts had been constructed for Dutch troops, transported from Java and Sumatra. The Dutch varied from 15 - 69 years old and had some who were coloured, they had left loved ones in concentration camps in Java.

About 1000 Dutch came under Toosey’s command.

The Thai river craft stopped off to trade with the Japanese and prisoners, but as the Japanese did not allow the prisoners contact with the Thais, there were often beatings dished out by the guards. One of the Thais who helped  was Boon Pong, he made contact with Col. Toosey and smuggled much needed drugs into the camps. His bravery was recognised after the war with the George Medal by the British and the Orange-Nassau by the Dutch. Ģ40,000 was also raised by the 18th Division Association when Boon Pong fell on hard times after the war.

Information taken from Secret letters from the Railway by Brian Best


21st July 1943

There is a story that 30 British and Australian medical officers specially lectured to in Singapore on cholera and sent up to Siam with hospital equipment (which was taken from them by the Nips as soon as they arrived at Ban Pong) are coming up-river to look after coolie camps. The condition at the coolie camps down-river are terrible, Basil says. They are kept isolated from Japanese and British camps. They have no latrines. Special British prisoner parties at Kinsaiyok bury about 20 coolies a day. These coolies have from Malaya under false pretences - 'easy work, good pay, good houses'. Some have even brought wives and children. Now they find themselves dumped in these charnel houses, driven and brutally knocked about by Jap and Korean guards, unable to buy extra food, bewildered, sick, frightened. Yet many of them have shown extraordinary kindness to sick British prisoners passing down the river, giving them sugar and helping them into railway trucks at Tarsao. It is evident the evacuees go by barge to Tarsao and by train from there.

The first case of cholera at Kinsaiyok had the Japanese military commandant demanding that the victim (British soldier) be shot, it is stated that this order was carried out by Koreans, and that an enquiry into this is being held at Tarsao.

Some men of an anti-aircraft regiment who have come to Tarsao from Indo-China, especially Saigon, are much shocked by POW conditions in Siam. They report much local sympathy among Annamese and French; and complete inactivity in the port of Saigon. They themselves were treated well by the Japs in Saigon. They were engaged at one time unloading ammunition from a hospital ship.

22nd July 1943

More stories filter in about the coolie camps, where at least in some, British medical officers are working. Before a coolie can report sick at all to a British medical officer he must obtain permission from the Japanese guards, who do not of course often give it. Even when he sees the medical officer, generally very little can be done for him, as the medical officers are not supplied with drugs or dressings. But at all events the man goes into the hospital hut, where what can be done for him is done. He stays there for as long as necessary, or until the Japanese guards think it time that the hospital cases should be weeded out - by them. The medical officer has no authority. men with cholera are taken out to makeshift shelters in the jungle and left there. If they have friends who will look after them, these do what the can. If they have not, so much the worse. A fatigue officer at Kinsaiyok goes each morning to the Tamil lines and carts away for burial anyone who has died during the night.

3 October 1943

An officer has come down from up-river reports over 1,000 Tamil deaths in a coolie camp not far from here.

25th October 1943

A small train went through yesterday with some high ranking Nipponese officers sitting on chairs in open wagons specially rigged up with carpentered frames carrying attap roofs. They are said to be going up for a ceremony which is to be held at the linking of the rails which have been laid from near Moulmein on the other side, and those laid up this side of the divide. Going out with the anti-malaria party yesterday, I saw that a high screen of fresh-cut bamboo branches had been put up along the railway side where it passes the unbelievably squalid coolie camp a kilometre down the line from here. This is presumably to conceal the camp from the exalted officers on the train. But can't cut off the stench.

To celebrate the junction of the rails, the Japanese have given the prisoners a whole holiday for one day and have made a special issue of food - Japanese tinned milk, margarine and fish.

Information taken from The Secret Dairy of Dr Robert Hardie 1942-45



November 29th 1943:

The Tha Makhan Camp which was subjected to a bombing attack. This camp was situated next to the bridge and some of the bombs landed in the camp. Killing 18 prisoners and wounding 68 more.

From Neilīs Story




Tha Makhan Memorial Monument

The photo is available from

The " Memorial Monument " was erected by the Japanese, after the construction of the railway was finished, on the bank of the Kwa Yai, near the wooden bridge.

I had been at Thamakan from January 3rd, 1945 till the end of April, 1945.

Tamarkan -2  Tamarkan -3

There was alot of bombing, it was terrible. Especially when the Japanese mounted their battery of anti-aircraft guns, about 150 meters behind (east side) of our workcamp. But all those guns were totally destroyed on one sunny, memorable afternoon, as far as I can remember, by 15 Liberators. In the meantime another group of bombers hitting the bridge, that was partly damaged, anyhow out of use for a time.

Tamarkan -4
Next working day after a bombing, we noticeably got a lot more beatings. I believe the Thamakan camp was closed when all the officers went to a new camp in Kanchanaburi and the NCO's and men, like me, went to Chungkai camp.



June 1945

Ban-Tam-Kam, Thailand. C. 1945-05. In a round trip of nearly 2,500 miles from bases in India, RAF Liberator aircraft of Strategic Air Force

Steel Bridge under attack

In a round trip of nearly 2,500 miles from bases in India, RAF Liberator aircraft of Strategic Air Force

Taken May 1945

Ban-Tam-Kam, Thailand. C. 1945-05

After the Raid

Taken May 1945

The photo is available from


There were two bridges at Tha Makhan or Tamarkan, the first being wooden, and constructed to get POWs and supplies across the river. By all accounts that I have read it left a lot to be desired, the sway on the Millenium Bridge in London had nothing on this one. The other was of course the steel span bridge, both were badly hit in a Liberator raid on February 13th 1945. One guess who repaired them.
An interesting note from "River Kwai Railway" by Clifford Kinvig, there were some 688 bridges built over the course of the Railway, ranging from the big steel structure noted above, to small wooden structures, but there were another six steel and concrete structures that crossed tributaries of the Kwai in Burma, called Zami, Apalon, Mezali, Winyaw, Khonkhan, and Myettaw rivers.
For information, from the Kinvig book referred to in an earlier message;
"The work parties themselves were called Kumis, groups of 30 to 50 workers in charge of one of their own officers, the Kumicho, who was usually a Lieutenant; two Kumis would make a Han commanded by a Hancho, a captain. These officers wore armbands and it was their responsibility to see that the designated work task was completed on schedule, to negotiate over difficulties, to intercede on their mens behalf and to attempt to avert the beatings which the Japanese were wont to inflict on those who failed to obey their orders instantly"

By Keith Andrews



I have an extraordinary story to tell whereby I think I saved some Aussie lives. This incident happened when I was in Tamarkan camp.

First , you have to understand "scrip". Scrip was the paper money that the Japs paid us for building that damn railway. It worked out to 25 cents a day. We could only spend it at the canteen within the camp where I think all the profits went to the camp commandant (Jap). It was printed in the Thai language ,and could not be used in any other country. One day a contingent of Aussies came into Tamarkan camp. They had just come from Burma and were a bunch of very sick boys. They also had a lot of Burma scrip which was useless in Thailand. The Japs refused to change it into Thai scrip. So they had all this useless paper.

One day, I was outside working on the bridge, when one of the guards took me aside and indicated that he wanted to talk to me .He couldn't speak English, and I couldn't speak Jap, so we both spoke in a kind of pidgin Thai. Obviously he was aware that the Aussies had a bunch of Burma scrip and he
wanted me to go to them and buy their Burma scrip. He was prepared to pay 70 cents for each Burma scrip.

I went to the Aussies and told them that I could possibly get their money changed. Some of them gave me their scrip,others didn't, they thought it was a scam. Anyway, I took their scrip to the Jap guard who gave me the equivalent back in Thai scrip. I went back to the Aussies and gave them the paper money. They were overjoyed. Now they could buy extra food from the canteen. When the doubters found that it wasn't a scam, they gave me their scrip. In a short length of time ,I changed thousands of dollars in scrip for them, and I believe it led to many of them returning home to their families.

Later, I found out what the Jap guard was doing with all that Burma scrip. Whenever a troop train going into Burma stopped at the bridge, he would go along the train and change their Thai money into Burma scrip, dollar for dollar. He made 30 cents on each dollar !!

I bet that bastard has become wealthy. Anyway, it helped some Aussies to get back home.

David Wince. No.6022643 2nd.Batt. Cambridgeshires Regt.


Location of Tha Makhan Camp

Tha Makhan camp location is in the centre of Kanchanaburi at the spot where the daytrip buses stop. One km to the right (when looking at the river) is a school connected to a temple: Wat Tha Makham School!

By Arno




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