The instigator and driving force behind the Centre's research work is long-time Kanchanaburi resident Rod Beattie, now the Centre's Museum Curator. Originally from Queensland, Australia, Rod has spent much of the last ten years uncovering the location of the abandoned section of the railway and former campsites.
Having met and talked with a large number of former prisoners of war or members of their families and having read widely of the subject, two factors became apparent to Rod.
Firstly there is a great need to provide the answers to the most asked questions from visitors coming to Kanchanaburi. "My father (grandfather, brother, uncle) died on the railway. Where? When? How?" Apart from a few unit histories (official and unofficial) and an equally small number of books providing details of small groups of soldiers, there has been no serious attempt to provide the answers which would give a great deal of comfort to the relatives of more than 15,000 allied personnel who died whilst prisoners of war, working on the railway, or afterwards.
The start to answering these questions is to know exactly where the railway ran, and where all of the numerous camps were located. To this end Rod has spent much of the past ten years locating all of the accessible abandoned railway in Thailand, including long sections which are normally covered by the waters of the Vachiralongkorn Dam.
The second phase of this research work was the drawing of perhaps the first comprehensive map of the full length of the railway. This map shows the location of all railway stations, camps and any other points of major interest. Concurrent with this work has been the collection and collation of the records kept by the prisoner of war camp administrations, and many other documents which provide information as to the movement and fate of PoW's. Since these records are held in archives scattered all around the world, there has been, and continues to be, considerable time and money spent in compiling the database.
The second factor which has become very apparent is how little of the full story about the railway is known. Many of the books published about the railway are personal accounts, and as such tell of the author's own experiences and/or that of their immediate comrades. It is known that many of the senior PoW officers wrote official reports of events which took place on the railway. These reports, which were collected and collated post war, lie largely unread in the archives around the World.
We aim to make the information contained in some of these files and reports easily available to the public for the first time. It may be that these reports will show that many of the factors which create difficulties between different peoples even today (cultural and ethnic differences, education, religion and simple misunderstanding) were partly to blame for the tragedy of the railway experience. At the very least it will provide a much wider view of events than has been possible until now.
Another area is to collect the stories of as many of the survivors of the railway as possible. Previously this has received very little attention but is now becoming urgent. It is planned to interview prisoners of war and other survivors to record their experiences. These are the men who were on the railway and their information is invaluable. It has been through talking to former prisoners of war and through taking a number of them back to the railway that numerous relics recovered from the abandoned railway have been identified and several campsites have been positively and accurately located.