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  • Writer's pictureKirk

Bridge over River Kwai

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

I remember as a young child watching this movie. It had a lasting impression on me. Especially the dramatic scene of the blowing up of the bridge by the POWs constructing it. How true was the film?

I visited the bridge this film was based upon:

It stands as an attraction today in Kanchananuri, Thailand spanning the Kwai Noi river.

This was part of a supply route constructed by English and Dutch POWs alongside many enslaved Asian people conquered during the war. The purpose of the route was to link Burma (now Myanmar) with Siam (Thailand) via railway as an alternate supply route during WW2. The allied forces with their greatly improved Navy had disrupted the Japanese supply routes via shipping lanes at the time.

I crossed the bridge by foot on this particular morning. I was amazed at how few foot traffic there was at the time, especially by foreigners. I had imagined this a greater tourist attraction due to the 1957 box office smash hit movie of the same name.

The only traffic I encountered were locals and monks:

This older lady crossing captured my imagination. What was here life story I wondered as she carried her fish home?:

There is still a train there today that will transport you across the bridge:

This railway construction took the lives of an estimated 20 men per day. The harsh brutalities of the heat, living conditions, malaria infested jungles, and harsh Japanese captors took its toll on the workers. Many were buried and later commemorated in cemeteries along the route. An estimate 16,000 allied troops along with 90,000 forced Asian laborers died building the route.

This was a solemn experience for me to stand by the graves:

But what of the movie? Was it true? Did Lt. Col Nicholson’s wounded body fall on the detonator and blow up the bridge as the movie depicts? No! Of course not! It's simply movie drama. The bridge along with many others on the route were blown up by allied aerial forces. This bridge over river Kwai, known officially at the time as bridge #277, damaged sections were later rebuilt after the war.

The historical sense of the moment was intense during my visit. It was only enhanced by being the only foreigner there.

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