First residing in Thailand 16 years ago, Australian gem-cutter Rod Beattie didn't expected to open a museum here, telling the story of a "Death Railway" built under the Japanese army in the World War II.
Now, he has been the owner, designer and curator of the museum named "Thailand-Burma (Myanmar) Railway Center", a small two-storey house in the center of Kanchanaburi Town, capital of the province bearing the same name.
Back in the World War II, Kanchanaburi, lying some 120 kilometers west of Bangkok, was the construction site of the Japanese project of a 415-kilometer-long railway connecting Thailand and Myanmar.
Defeated at the Battle of Midway and losing control of the Indian Ocean to the Allied naval forces in 1942, the Japanese army was in dire need for a land route to supply its troops having invaded Myanmar and pry on opportunity to invade India.
In a desperate move, the Japanese army started the Thai-Myanmar Railway construction in mid 1942, enforcing about 240,000 Aiied prisoners of war (POWs) and Asian laborers to work on the project.
It's a backbreaking slavery job. Working 15 hours a day without heavy machine, supplied by meager food and medicine, living in unhygienic makeshift jungle huts and tortured by Japanese soldiers, tens of thousands POWs and Asian laborers soon fell down and died in the construction.
More than 100,000 POWs and Asian laborers had perished, or some40 percent of the total labor force, when the Allied forces took over the railway in September 1945. The Thai-Myanmar railway thus is called "Death Railway".
"It's always my wish to build a museum to tell the story of the railway," Beattie told Xinhua in an interview on Aug. 12.
Walking into the two exhibition halls about 300-square-meter large, visitors are exposed to the railway history revived by informative panels, black-and-white photos, mimic of working sites, POWs' diary and utensils, railway relics and ongoing documentary and slides show.
Dimmed lights and obscured locomotive sirens all seem to bring visitors to the dark and damp jungles lying across Thailand and Myanmar border.
Trying to convey the concept of "Death Railway" to people, Beattie erected up several pieces of wood at a corner and nailed spikes recovered from the Thai-Myanmar Railway upon the wood.
Each piece of wood is marked at the lower end with different name of countries, all POW and Asian laborer origins. Every spike stands for 500 people dying in constructing the railway, says a nearby note.
There are five spikes on the wood marked the Netherlands, six for Australia and 14 for Britain. As to Myanmar and Tamils from Malaysia, the two pieces of wood have grown high up to the darkness below the ceiling, both densely covered by rusty spikes.
Almost 62,000 POWs were enforced to build the railway with about 12,000 dying, while Asian laborers having a high rate of death of 85,400 out a total of 177,700, according to incomplete data acquired at the end of war.
Lack of a well-organized commanding system as that used on POWs resulted in the high death rates of Asian laborers, "a whole bunch of individuals", according to Beattie.
On the other hand, no one knows the accurate number of Asian laborers and their death or their exact situation, for they didn'tkeep records as POWs and most Japanese document on them were destroyed at the end of war.
Driven by interests in the railway story, Beattie has spent a lot of time doing paperwork research, interviewing survivors, recovering relics and surveying field.
With the interests then becoming "obsessive", Beattie flew three times to London to check with historical records, traveled along the whole railway in more than 380 trips over the past decade.
He also cleared a total of eight-kilometer long railway buried by jungle vegetation, including the most notorious "Hellfire Pass"named for the hardships and dangers in building it.
"All that rail track was cleaned by myself personally, voluntarily, unpaid and unfunded," said Beattie.
Gradually, he won a reputation for his knowledge of and devotion to the "Death Railway".
"Rod (Beattie) always has a passion for the railway," William Slape, manager of the "Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum", told Xinhua. At the same time, his assistant manager Ruchikarn Steer said, "If Rod doesn't know, nobody knows."
In 1995, the Commonwealth War Grave Commission appointed Beattie as manager of the War Cemeteries in Kanchanaburi. He was also hired by the Australian government as project manager for the construction of the "Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum" located at the site.
In 1998, Beattie opened his own museum, an institution of 18 million-baht (450,000-US dollar) investment and 11 staff.
Facing a cemetery for Allied POWs, Kanchanaburi's tourist attraction, the small but informative museum, is not a hot site for hundreds of thousands tourists brought to the two by buses.
Describing local tourist guides introduction of the history as "of very few strength," Beattie was told by them that his museum is "too good" to be given a tour, for tourists would spend more time here and thus cut down the lucrative hours for shopping.
Still, Beattie's museum has attracted quite a number of interested visitors who leave their affirmative comments on the guests' book. The small building also received the Queen of the Netherlands last year, when she's visiting Thailand.
Now, Beattie is busy with upgrading his museum, planning and designing a library and a gallery for POW relics.
Outside the museum in the POW cemetery, several Thai kids in school uniformed are frolicing around under the trees and on the lawns. One of them named La told reporter, "I like here. The big garden is so beautiful!"