Hellfire Pass

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Matt Keogh MP

Minister for Defence Personnel

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Media contacts

Stephanie Mathews (Minister Keogh’s Office): +61 407 034 485

DVA Media: media.team@dva.gov.au

Release content

17 August 2022

The Hellfire Pass Memorial in Thailand is a tribute to the Allied prisoners of war and local labourers who worked on the Burma-Thailand railway during the Second World War.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Matt Keogh laid a wreath at the memorial today and paid tribute to the more than 60,000 Allied prisoners of war who worked on the railway, and in particular those who endured terrible working conditions in Hellfire Pass.

“Hellfire Pass was the deepest and longest cutting across the length of the Burma-Thailand railway, some 75 metres long and 25 metres deep,” Minister Keogh said.

“Prisoners were forced to work long hours into the night when the Japanese introduced 'Speedo' to meet tight deadlines for completing the railway. The site was lit by oil lamps and bamboo fires, flickering in the night. With the noise from the drilling of the rock and the shadows of hundreds of poorly fed prisoners, it seemed the very image of hell.

“The men who were forced to build the railway did so with little more than their bare hands. Standing on this site, it is humbling to think of the work that they did here, the sacrifices made and the conditions under which they lived.

“Australian prisoners began working in the region of Hellfire Pass in April 1943. Many did not survive the brutal conditions – it’s believed that as many as 700 Allied prisoners died working on Hellfire Pass in just a few months from April to June 1943, when prisoners were forced to work through the ‘speedo’ period in an effort to hurry the railway’s completion.

“About 13,000 Australian prisoners of war worked on the railway and more than 2,700 lost their lives. As many as a quarter of a million civilian labourers were thought to have been put to work on the railway, and it is believed that as many as 90,000 perished there.

“I was honoured to lay a wreath today at the Hellfire Pass Memorial in memory of the Australians, and all those who suffered and died at Hellfire Pass and on the Burma-Thailand railway during the Second World War.”

While at Hellfire Pass, the Minister also visited the interpretive centre, which is one of the most visited museums in Thailand, attracting visitors from around the world.

“My visit to the interpretive centre today has been an overwhelming experience and I am humbled by the bravery and strength of the Allied prisoners and the civilian labourers who suffered and died at Hellfire Pass,” Minister Keogh said.

“The centre is a clear demonstration of the bonds of friendship between Australia and Thailand, where we work together to ensure the sacrifices of our people during the Second World War will never be forgotten.”

The Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre and Memorial Walking Trail, including Konyu Cutting, is operated and maintained by the Australian Government.

Other related releases