The Road to Mandalay

February 1 to February 24, 2015

Day 12 - Hellfire Pass to Kanchanaburi

With our rallying set for later in the day, we all took advantage of an early-morning drive to the museum and remains of the Burma Railway at Hellfire Pass. This was particularly poignant for those who have seen the film, The Railwayman, which featured the difficult life experienced by prisoners of war when the Japanese built a railway linking Malaysia, Thailand and Burma with a single-track railway, built to help them supply their forces in Burma.

Hellfire Pass was the deepest cutting through sheer rock, and was the result of just 12 weeks of toil, working day and night – it gained its name from the light of fires lit at night to aid the work. It is difficult to know precisely how many men died at Hellfire Pass although it has been estimated that there was one death for every rail sleeper over the full 415 kilometres of the railway.

On that sombre note we returned to our cars, and took in a grand loop through a National Park, driving on gravel roads before returning to the same hotel on the banks of the River Kwai.  There were two regularity-tests down remote gravel trails, and the result is a change at the top of the leaderboard in the Classics division. Peter and Zoe Lovett in the two-litre 911 dropped a single second on the first regularity, and three on the second – overhauling Gerry Crown in the big V8 Leyland, who dropped a minute on the first after missing a junction.  Some excellent times were posted among the rest of the Classics, notable performances were put up by John Rich, who got a spot-on, zero penalties on the first regularity and dropped three seconds on the second; Paul and Sandra Merryweather dropped one second on the first and two on the second; Patrick Sommer dropped 10 on the first but by the second regularity was in full swing and dropped just a single second, Matthew Todd in a Volvo dropped a whole minute with the problem of finding the finish control, overshooting a tricky junction, but got a spot-on score of no penalties on the second regularity.

In the Vintageants, a consistent performance was turned in by Phil Garratt in the red Chevy, dropping four seconds on the first regularity and two on the second. Today’s effort means the gap between first overall Bill Shields, and Phil Garratt, is now down to just seven seconds. Martin Egli dropped just one second on the second test, after struggling to find the finish on the first regularity when he dropped 49 seconds. It was David Tomlin who proved to be the star of the day in his Ford V8 Coupe, dropping just one second on the first regularity, and two on the second, spot on time keeping as well as navigation from Hilary contributed to the best result among the Vintageants. We welcomed back the blue Alvis Tourer today, Caroline Greenhalgh has cured her axle problems, with a fresh differential, and with new co-driver Louise Cartledge dropped right back into the competition, dropping 14 seconds on the first tricky regularity, and then got a bullseye, zero penalties, on the second. Louise says her regularity skills have been honed on the Flying Scotsman rally.  Finally, news on the oldest car in the event… David and Karen Ayre were in good spirits today, the 1907 Itala bounds along, and on the leaderboard they are ahead of a Ford V8 Coupe, a Bentley and other several later, quicker cars, and romped round the regularities today using their very tall driving position to advantage, easily seeing over the tall grass through the bamboo canes to read the bends ahead, they dropped just four seconds on the second regularity, a score that was bettered by only seven other Vintageants – not bad for a six litre pioneer with tyres as narrow as some bicycles ….and no brakes.

On our way back to our hotel, several crews diverted just off the main highway to visit the real Bridge Over The River Kwai, today an all-metal construction for a single-track railway over the river, but where in 1943 a vast wooden bridge was built by British and Australian prisoners in appalling conditions - successfully bombed two years later by the RAF.  The highly-acclaimed anti-war film, The Bridge Over the River Kwai, won seven Oscars, and was the number one film of the year, telling the story of a true incident that occurred during the building of the bridge. We ended a fascinating driving day with an excellent meal, dining together in the Dheva Mantra Hotel.

Syd Stelvio



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