Cliff returns to his WWII ‘hell’
FOR former prisoner of war Cliff Lowien, revisiting the horror of Hellfire Pass in Thailand was overshadowed by an emotional Anzac Day meeting with a relative of a Thai man who had smuggled medicines for prisoners.
Mr Lowien, of Yamba, revisited the place where he was interned for three months as a prisoner of war in 1943, accompanied by his son Jeff and a contingent of others from the district as part of a group organised by Senator John Williams of Inverell.
In 43-degree heat, the group visited the man-made railway canyon on Friday afternoon, before returning for a dawn service on Anzac Day.
“Nothing much has changed, except there are no Japanese,” he said. “It made me wonder how we did it with just hammer and tack, and in that heat and humidity.”
At the dawn service, “birds called out above us, it just seemed to fit in. The number of young people there was quite incredible,” Mr Lowien said.
For his son, the cutting is a tribute to the human spirit.
“It just makes you wonder how they did it, especially with limited food and water. It was very moving and chilling to think what they went through – no wonder they called it Hellfire Pass, because it would have been hell to do it,” Jeff told the Examiner.
Later on Anzac morning, the group attended a service at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, where 6900 prisoners of war are buried. For the service, Glen Innes resident Maggie Dent was called upon to join another woman to sing a special hymn, when the woman’s original singing partner had to pull out.
“The woman had heard Maggie’s beautiful voice at the dawn service, so asked her to fill in,” Jeff said.
For Cliff Lowien, however, the most moving part of the day was a visit organised by the Australian Embassy to the shop of Thai shopkeeper Boon Tong, who smuggled medicines into the war camp to help keep prisoners alive.
“Boon Tong supplied the Japanese with food, but smuggled in all sorts of drugs to help the prisoners. If he had been found out, his head would have been off,” Mr Lowien said. “I had some of his malaria pills, but a lot had chloroform and other drugs. He’s dead now but we met his sister-in-law, she became quite emotional and I did too,” he said.
The group’s 12-day tour includes a trip on the River Kwai on a bamboo raft, a visit to the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum and a visit to a hill tribe village.