ANZAC Day at Hellfire Pass on the Burma Thailand Railway

ANZAC Day 2022 will mark my first ANZAC Day since leaving a permanent Air Force position after 12 years of service. As I reflect on my time in uniform and my many ANZAC Days as a serving member, I’ve realised how diverse and varying my commemorations have been, and how differently individuals choose to commemorate the day every year.

I have been deployed on operations in the Middle East, stood on the steps of the Australian War Memorial, marched down the main streets of Sydney, stood in my driveway, reflected quietly at home, and played two-up at establishments across Australia.

A most memorable ANZAC day was 2019, when I attended ANZAC Day services in Thailand, commemorating Hellfire Pass and the Burma-Thailand railway. Over 22,000 Australians were captured by the Japanese in early 1942 to work on the railway with more than a third of these men and women dying in captivity. This represents 20 percent of all Australian deaths during World War II and is a central part of Australia’s national memory. The dawn service was held at the memorial plaque, perched high in the forest canopy and overlooking the great expanse of the jungle below.

As the sun crept slowly above the horizon, Australian World War II veteran and former Prisoner of War (POW), 102 year old Harold Martin recited the Ode, during one of the most moving and emotional services I have witnessed.

Following the service, we walked sections of the original railway and through the deepest and most dramatic of the many cuttings known as Hellfire Pass. It was hard to contemplate how an excavation of that depth was possible mostly using hand tools held by POWs, and all amidst some of the most challenging terrain imaginable. The walk concludes at the Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre where we listened to harrowing recounts of Australian POW stories, accompanied with shocking footage and artefacts from this heartbreaking time in Australian history. I will never forget attending a service on the grounds were so many Australians died and understand the sacrifice they made for our country.

ANZAC Day is a time for Australians to recognise all service men and women, and to remember those who have sacrificed their lives in our great country’s name. While every Australian’s connection to ANZAC Day is unique and we will all chose to mark the day in different ways, it is important to always remember the sacrifices of those, like Harold Martin, who came before us, those who still serve, and to inspire our younger generations to follow in the footsteps of our proud ANZAC tradition.

I’ll be spending my first ANZAC Day out of uniform with current and former serving members, celebrating their service, and taking the time during to reflect on my Air Force career and my contribution to this great legacy.

Lest we forget

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5 thoughts on “ANZAC Day at Hellfire Pass on the Burma Thailand Railway

  1. Hi Courtney
    Great post
    Can you tell me if they hold annual ANZAC services here and is the general public welcome?
    would plan this for 2023 if possible

  2. Thank you for your service Courtney. We were there at that service in 2019 as part of the Quiet Lions Tour. It was indeed very emotional indeed listening to Harold Martin recite the ode, It was an honour to have the opportunity to meet Him. I am so glad we went that year as I think it might hav been the last year a POW was in attendance.

  3. Thanks for sharing and your service, Courtney. It brought back special memories of a similar trip my husband and father-in-law did 1998 in memory of their uncle/brother who died there in 1942. Looking forward to the dawn service in Melbourne on Monday.

  4. Thankyou for posting this Courtney. It always brings ANZAC day to life to hear personal stories and memories and this was a nice moment of reflection for me. Thank you for your service.

  5. Great contribution. Thankyou for your service Courtney, and for sharing this story. Powerful images of service and sacrifice.

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