Name: Jasmine Law
Topic: Burma Railway
1. What were the living and working conditions like for the prisoners during the construction of the Burma Railway?
One third of a million men were captured and forced to work on building the Burma Railway; 100,000 of these men had died by the time the project was completed. This large number of men died due to the harsh living and working conditions they experienced during the construction of the railway. The Prisoners of War (POW) did not have sufficient tools to assist them in the construction of the railway and were only able to use simple tools to perform demanding tasks. Shovels, picks and chunkels were used to break earth and rock then carried away in sacks and baskets. Even large pieces of stone earth were mostly lifted and carried by the POW themselves. All of the holes drilled for explosives were done with the manual force of the prisoners using sledgehammers and metal taps. POWs cut down the wood used throughout the whole project in the surrounding jungle, resulting in laborious hours gathering the supplies that were required. The large numbers of POWs were split into smaller groups with each having to work alternate long shifts of 12 hours in the changing climate, consisting of three seasons; cold, hot and dry. During their rest time the POWs would try to rest however this was usually unachievable as the Japanese guards always want to have a tenko, where they would line everybody up every few hours and count to make sure that all of the POWs were present. The guards belted anyone that was falling behind in their work and they were often either shot or simply left to die in the jungle. POWs were kept in selarang barracks, these were build to be able to accommodate a capacity of 900 however about 15,000 prisoners were housed in these facilities. This resulted in the barracks being overcrowded and hot while the Japanese guards were allowed to sleep outside in the cool, refreshing air. The POWs were usually fed 8 ounces of rice and 4-6 ounces of vegetables; which were mostly grown by themselves. Sometimes the labourers were rewarded with 4 ounces of meat for hard work however this did not last very long. The POWs suffered many injures including physical cuts and sores from performing manual labour, skin sores, ulcers and other medical conditions from the lack of vitamins in the food. Their bad diet also resulted in diarrhoera and dysentery, making it difficult to maintain hygiene. Some also suffered with uncomfortable beriberi swelling all over the bodies. There was also no treatment or prevention from tropical diseases in the environment, those plagued from the illness were isolated from the group and usually killed to stop the plague from spreading. Overall the POWs lived and worked in shocking and cruel conditions during the construction of the Burma Railway.
POW working on the Burma Railway Accommodation for the POWs
Three POWs suffering from malnourishment and Ulcers that the POWs have suffered from beriberi swelling
1. Why were the Japanese so interested in building the Burma Railway to the point where they were willing to treat the prisoners in such a traumatic manner?
On the 7th of December 1941 Japan conducted an attack on Pearl Harbour to prevent the U.S. Pacific Fleet from interfering with their military plans against overseas territories. Japan was successful at achieving this and killed many Americans, showing their strength in this wartime. After this attack Japan was feeling confident and wanted to take on the British Empire in Singapore as it offered them a military advantage. The overall goal for the Japanese was to invade the British Empire in India, however they needed Singapore to help them advance forward with strength. They needed to be able