MOST WAR MEMORIALS are made from stone. This one is made from paper: ten original sketches drawn in ink, pen and coloured pencil and stuck in a velvety leather autograph album with cornflour-and-water glue, three Christmas cards, four letters and nine black-and-white photographs the size of football cards. This modest memorial honours an anonymous World War II Australian field ambulance man, Sergeant Henry (Lofty) Judge Cannon, and the life-saving care he gave to British artist Ronald Searle and many other near-dead prisoners of war at Kanchanaburi, a jungle camp at the Bangkok end of the Thai-Burma railway.
The Japanese Imperial Army decided to build the railway in 1942, the year Singapore fell. It needed to get food and weapons to soldiers fighting in Burma. Prisoners of war and Asian labourers cut the railway through mountains and jungles, starting in Ban Pong in Thailand and going up through Tamuang and countless settlements to Hellfire Pass and more before terminating 415 kilometres later at Thanbyuzayat. By October 1943, the impossible track had been built by 55,000 Allied prisoners of war and 135,000 Asian labourers, including men, women and children. It is estimated that a hundred thousand of these starving and cholera-ridden people died on the job. Forty years later Ronald Searle wrote in his war memoir, ‘If the men who died building it were laid end to end, they would roughly cover the 273 miles of track they built that year.’
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