My visit to Kanchanaburi to learn more about the Death Railway and Bridge over the River Kwai actually started with a visit to the Allied cemetery there. British, Australian and Dutch soldiers are buried here, though there are several cemeteries like it in the area to accommodate all of the war dead. The civilian forced laborers are buried separately from the soldiers, though not all of them have marked graves.
The cemetery was a rather peaceful spot. It was well-maintained, and colorful flowers had been planted between some of the headstones. Stately trees punctuated the space, offering their shade. My Thai guide warned me not to step over any of the headstones but to only cross an aisle at either end. Thais consider the head to be the most sacred part of the body, so any disrespect to the head is taken very seriously. I don’t anticipate I would have been jumping over gravestones and certainly not in a military cemetery, but I appreciated the warning.
I spent some time reading the inscriptions on the various headstones, obviously chosen by the families. Several included the famous line from Rupert Brooke’s The Soldier: “there’s some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England.” Many of them had the line I chose for this title quote: “resting where no shadows fall.” Still others were Bible verses of comfort. Some just expressed grief or loss. Many demonstrated acceptance of their loved ones’ sacrifice on behalf of his country. One mentioned a man’s baby girl, and I wondered how old she would be today and what her life was like without her father. The one that struck me the most though was what J.T. Ridley’s parents had inscribed on his tombstone: “He did his best.”
I thought about whether the loved ones of these men were comforted that each of them has a resting place and that they had a definitive answer about what happened to him. Or did they lament his resting so far from home? The whole visit made me feel very far from home, if I’m being honest.
Check back tomorrow for my experience riding the infamous “Death Railway.”
Title quote: Inscription on many of the gravestones in the Allied cemetery