About the Sumatra Railway

On 15 August 1945, the day that Japan surrendered, a ceremony took place to signal that the last nail had been hammered into the track that joined the two ends of the Sumatra railway.

This railway was constructed by Asian slave labourers (known as romushas) and Allied prisoners of war (POWs) from the port town of Pakanbaroe, to Moeara. The construction was overseen by some of the same Japanese engineers that had been responsible for the Thailand-Burma railway.

The foundations for the railway started to be dug by romushas from March 1943, over a year before the first contingent of POWs arrived on the railway in May 1944.

There were nearly 5,000 POWs on the railway, and 100,000 romushas. Conditions for romushas were particularly appalling and over 80,000 perished during the railway’s construction — along with nearly 700 POWs.

For the first time this website brings together a nominal roll of all British former POWs who laboured on the Sumatra railway.

An accompanying book, Prisoners on the Sumatra Railway: Narratives of History and Memory will be published by Bloomsbury in late 2017.

This research has been made possible through funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Leeds Humanities Research Institute (LHRI) and the Wellcome Trust.

Image: Old Railway, Alex Drainville