Our first stop was the Jeath War Museum, a replica of a prisoner of war hut. Inside, there were utensils, photographs of men, horribly emaciated, and close-ups of leg ulcers. There were hand-painted pictures by one survivor - they were my first indication that anyone had survived.
Back on the coach, the guide pointed to Kanchanaburi war cemetery. My companion was surprised. He had been there 14 years previously and remembered it as being surrounded by countryside. Now it was in the town.
A short drive further and the coach stopped again. Everyone piled out. Here was the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai.
Two enormous bombs stood at the entrance to the bridge. Swarms of tourists were walking across on the single-track railway. Many were taking photographs.
Behind us the railway wound round a bend and out of sight. All around were stalls selling snacks and drinks, shops selling film and souvenirs. And another war museum. There was a strange lorry without wheels on a length of railway track. According to the information, the Japanese had adapted lorries to run on railways or roads. We left the main coach party and travelled by tuk-tuk, a three- wheeled taxi, back to the war cemetery. Looking over the hedge surrounding it, I could see mist rising from the ground - and that the place was swarming with girl guides.
I had confidently expected there to be a display map or guide to the cemetery, but in the main entrance there was nothing but a box containing the advice: 'We have found it impossible to keep information here during the daytime.' So we had to start searching.
The graves were not full-sized, just stones, each measuring about a metre square. They were inscribed with the name, regiment and rank, the age and date of death of each soldier. Some bore personal messages as well. They were laid out in rows with grass between each row, and plants between each grave. There were very many of them.
We walked to the far left of the cemetery to start our search. I noticed that there were a number of Australian graves in this spot, and wondered if there might be some order to it. My companion had started to look at graves a few rows ahead of me. 'My brother's surname was Cherry,' I told him.
He looked at me in astonishment. 'Then it's here,' he said, 'I've seen it. Look.'
And there, at last, it was. Now I knew for certain what had happened to my brother. He had died 50 years ago. He had not escaped. He had not chosen to live in Thailand with a Thai woman, as I had always hoped, instead of coming home. He had had no choice at all. He had spent the past half-century in this grave in Thailand, along with all the others.
I sat by the grave. I spoke to him. I spoke to my parents, and to my other brother and sister, who are now also dead. I said that I hoped that they knew that I was here, and that we were all gathered together on this day.
I watched the ants and grasshoppers, alive and lively among the graves and the flowers. It was peaceful and a beautiful day to be alive.
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content