After entering the Second World War in December 1941, Japanese forces quickly overran most of South East Asia. In 1942, in order to find a shorter and more secure line of supply between Burma (now Myanmar) and Siam (now Thailand), the Japanese decided to use prisoners of war and civilian labour to build a single line railway to link existing railheads at Thanbyuzayat in the west and Ban Pong in the east. Two forces, one based in Siam and one in Burma, worked from opposite ends of the line, meeting at Konkuita in October 1943. The project cost the lives of approximately 15,000 prisoners of war and 100,000 civilians as a result of sickness, malnutrition, exhaustion and mistreatment.
This cemetery, the larges of three on the Burma-Siam Railway, is located near the site of the former "Kanburi" Prisoner of War Base Camp through which most prisoners passed on their way to other camps. The cemetery, designed by Colin St Clair Oakes, was created after the war by the Army Graves Service who transferred graves into it from camp burial grounds and solitary sites all along the southern half of the railway and from other sites in Thailand.
More than 5,000 Commonwealth and 1,800 Dutch casualties are commemorated in the cemetery, including some 300 men who died of sickness at Nieke and Changaraya and who were cremated. Their ashes are buried in two graves in the cemetery and their names appear on panels in the shelter building. The names of eleven soldiers of the Indian army whose graves elsewhere in Thailand could not be maintained are commemorated by name on a tablet in the entrance building.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is responsible for the maintenance of graves and memorials in some 150 countries which commemorate around 1,700,000 members of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars. Those commemorated here and elsewhere include servicemen and women of several different faiths and of none.