The forgotten Death railway through the jungle on Sumatra, built by Japanese Prisoners Of War and Indonesian Slave Labourers.
picturePicture from a painting of the late Sim Admiraal
A short background of the railway
Even before the thirties, Dutch railway engineers investigated the possibilities of building a railway between the north and south coast of Sumatra to give excess to the coal fields in land. These fields
were reported to have the finest coal readily available on the surface.
The problem was the cost of the building of the railway through inhospitable jungle and for most part through swamps. Bridges to cross rivers, subjected to monsoon floods, had to be build. And
all that through a country invested with malaria and other diseases. So the plans were shelved if not forgotten.
After the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies, these plans surfaced again and was considered feasible by the Japanese conquerors. After all they had the workers. Plenty of them at no cost.
Initially volunteers were enrolled, under false promises of light work, good pay and plenty of food, from the Indonesian population. These were called in Japanese "Romushas".
The treatment of these romushas was terrible and soon there was a shortage of volunteers. This resulted in the introduction of forced labour.
In 1944 the decision was made to use POW's, and on 19 may 1944 the first contingent of POW's from camps on Java arrived via Emma haven near Padang. They were transported by trucks to
Pakanbaroe. Their first task was to make camp 1 "habitable". These were old barracks from an oil company, about a hundred meters from the Siak River. It was chaos. When it rained and that
happened frequently, most of the camp flooded and the prisoners had to wade through knee deep mud. Soon this camp was nicknamed "Mud Resort" and this name remained until the evacuation on 17 October 1945.
Articles and graphics are from the book
"Eindstation Pakan Baroe" with permission from the author Henk Hovinga. See for
further details on my "Book" page.
To contact the webmaster please use my Guest book