The Sumatran Railway: The forgotten death railway

Forced marches, savage guards, skeletal PoWs, and a death toll in the tens of thousands. The construction of the Sumatran Railway from 1943–45 may live in the shadow of its notorious counterpart in Thailand and Burma. But, says Lizzie Oliver, that doesn't stop it being one of the darkest episodes of the Pacific War

Australian PoWs in a camp at the Sumatran city of Pekanbaru, c1945. More than 80,000 forced labourers, including PoWs, died during the construction of Sumatran railway, most the victims of disease, starvation and maltreatment. (Photo by State Library of Victoria)

This article was first published in the September 2018 edition of BBC History Magazine

Want to read more?

Become a BBC History Magazine subscriber today to unlock all premium articles in The Library

Unlock now