The Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre and Walking Trail in Kanchanaburi Province, Thailand, are dedicated to Australian and Allied Prisoners of War and Asian labourers (romusha) who suffered and died on the Burma–Thailand Railway and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region during the Second World War.
The Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre, located directly above Hellfire Pass, was originally built and funded by the Australian Government in collaboration with the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand. It opened in 1998. In 2016, the DVA Office of Australian War Graves commenced the refurbishment of the centre and has managed the refurbishment works.
On 12 December 2018 the refurbished Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre was reopened by the Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel, the Hon Darren Chester MP.
The refurbished centre features audio-visual content and exhibition pieces designed to explain the railway and educate visitors about what happened there. It presents the history of the Burma–Thailand Railway in a balanced way, focusing on the stories of all those involved in building the railway, and conveying the hardships and suffering endured by so many who were forced to work in extremely harsh conditions. It now also offers an audio guide tour that many visitors and tour groups listen to as they walk along the path of the railway to the memorial and beyond. The audio guide, available in English, Dutch and Thai, provides a history of Hellfire Pass and includes first-hand comments from ex-Prisoners of War.
Australia had already been at war for two years when the Pacific War began. From December 1941, the Japanese military swept across Asia and the Western Pacific, shocking the world with the speed of its advance. As nations fell to Japanese occupation, thousands of men and women were taken prisoner and endured years of captivity. Some 22,000 Australians became prisoners of the Japanese.
To build the railway, prisoners were forced to carve through solid limestone and quartz for up to 18 hours a day for some 12 weeks at Hellfire Pass, which received its name from the oil-fired bamboo torches that lit the cutting up like ‘the fires of hell’.
This is a site of great importance to those who worked on the Burma–Thailand Railway as Prisoners of War. As demonstrated by the more than 160,000 visitors to the site every year, it also holds special significance for many Australian and other visitors.
The 2019 Anzac Day Dawn Service was held below the new Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre. This year, Harold Martin, at the age of 102 years, recited the Ode of Remembrance at the Dawn Service and again later the same morning at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. Mr Martin, an ex-prisoner of war, served in the Second World War and survived the Burma–Thailand Railway. Following the passing of fellow Hellfire Pass Prisoner of War veteran Neil MacPherson OAM, also from Albany in Western Australia, Mr Martin is now the last Australian survivor of the railway. With assistance from the Quiet Lion Tour juniors, he laid a wreath at the Kanchanaburi catafalque.
Following the conclusion of the Anzac Centenary 2014–2018, the Australian Government’s commemorative focus is shifting towards events in the Asia-Pacific region.