Today I departed Australia for Thailand for Anzac Day commemorations at Hellfire Pass.
This will be my first visit to Thailand as Minister for Defence, and my third visit as an Australian Government Minister.
I will be accompanied by Senator the Honourable John Hogg, President of the Senate, and Second World War Thai-Burma Railway veterans who were held as Prisoners of War (POWs) by the Japanese.
On Anzac Day I will attend the Dawn Service at Hellfire Pass on the Thai-Burma Railway with Senator Hogg, where I will lay a wreath and make an Anzac Day Dawn Service address. I will have the privilege of joining several Australian former POWs for the commemorations.
An estimated 700 Allied POWs died at Hellfire Pass. 12,500 died on the Thai-Burma Railway. Some 75,000 Asian labourers also gave their lives to the Railway.
Later today I will visit the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum dedicated to those Allied POWs and Asian labourers who suffered and died at Hellfire Pass. I will also visit the Sir Edward Dunlop Museum.
This year marks the 70th Anniversary of the commencement of work on the cutting ofHellfirePass, named for the light thrown over the site by bamboo fires as emaciated figures laboured at night.
Hellfire Pass is located at Konyu and consisted of two cuttings, the first measured 460 metres in length and over 7.5 metres deep, the second was 73 metres long and 24 metres deep.
Work began at Hellfire Pass in April 1943 and was completed by August. POWs were forced to drill, blast and dig through solid rock. The work was as dangerous as any on the Railway and the conditions brutal and inhumane.
After the Anzac Day Dawn Service, together with Senator Hogg, I will also lay a wreath and make an Anzac Day address at the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.
The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery is the final resting place for 1,362 of the 2,800 Australian POWs who lost their lives during the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway.
The cemetery is located a short distance from the site of the former ‘Kanburi’, the POW base camp through which most of the prisoners passed on their way to other camps.
More than 5,000 Commonwealth personnel from the Second World War are buried or commemorated at the cemetery. There are also over 1,800 Dutch POW graves at the cemetery.
On Anzac Day we pause to remember the sacrifice and legacy of the Anzacs who landed on the shores of Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.
We remember the young Australians and New Zealanders who have fallen inAfghanistan. We honour their memory and share a tragic sense of loss.
We pause on Anzac Day not only to remember lives lost, but to also celebrate our national characteristics, our values and our virtues: the notion of a fair go, of looking out for one’s mates, of a sense of humour in adversity and the sure and certain knowledge that however bad our circumstances might be, there is always someone else worse off who needs a helping hand.
We also remember the more than 102,000 Australian service men and women who have served and died in wars and conflicts, and on peacekeeping, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance missions.
Media contact: Minister Smith's office: Sacha Fenton (02) 6277 7800 or 0467 784 528