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The Death Railway (Hardback)

The Personal Account of Lieutenant Colonel Kappe on the Thai-Burma Railroad

WWII Frontline Books Prisoners Of War Frontline: WWII Military

By Lt Col Charles Kappe
Frontline Books
Pages: 256
Illustrations: 32 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781399017770
Published: 28th February 2022


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They had faced the indignity of surrender and the squalor of Changi prison, so the spirits of the British and American troops lifted when they were told that they would be transferred to another healthier location where conditions would be more benign and food far more abundant. A total of 7,000 men, approximately half British and half Australian, were to be moved, the men being told that they would not be compelled to work. As there were not that number of fit men at Changi, many weak and unwell soldiers formed part of the group that was designated ‘F’ Force.

From the outset, the prisoners realized that none of the promises the Japanese had made would be fulfilled. Herded into trucks, they were transported on a nightmare rail journey into Thailand and then marched for hundreds of miles along a jungle track through the torrential monsoon rains to miserable camps where there was little in the way of cover or accommodation.

Despite utter exhaustion, upon arrival at the camps, the men were forced to work on the road and rail links the Japanese needed to carry supplies and reinforcements for their assault upon British-held India. With precious little food or medical supplies, the men soon fell prey to terrible and fatal diseases and soon hundreds had died. Despite the protests of the British and Australian officers, conditions in the malaria and cholera infested camps were utterly horrific. As Lieutenant Colonel Kappe wrote, the ‘barbarism’ they experienced at the hands of the Japanese had never ‘been equaled … in history’.

Kappe, therefore, set himself the task of documenting the atrocities the men of ‘F’ Force endured from May to October 1943, which resulted in more than 3,000 men losing their lives. His report is reproduced here in full – every disturbing episode in this almost unbelievable drama, told as he saw and experienced it at first hand. Rarely has there been such a document produced in a prisoner of war camp, its survival being as monumental as the sufferings of the men described in its pages.

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About Lt Col Charles Kappe

Lieutenant Colonel Charles KAPPE OBE, PSC, AMICE, was born on 3 December 1990 at Balarat in the Australian state of Victoria. He was educated at Ballarat High School, where he later commanded the school’s Cadet Corps. He joined the Australian Army before the war, graduating from Staff College to eventually become the 8th Australian Division's chief signals officer. As well as compiling his report on ‘F’ Force, Kappe was given the task of compiling the Australian war diaries of the campaign which ended with the fall of Singapore to the Japanese. This resulted in a 200,000-word history The Malayan Campaign written in Changi and in Thailand between 1942 and 1945. It was the first full history of the Malaya-Singapore campaign to be written by a participant, though it has only been published in part and in an abridged version. He died at the age of 66 on 23 October 1967.

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