BOONPONG – SAVIOUR TO LARGE NUMBERS OF SICK POWS
There is no doubt without the assistance and bravery of this man, many more hundreds of POWs would have died. He managed to get messages, medicines, money and contraband to several camps. His wife was also his accomplice, assisting him whenever she was able. She would entertain Japanese soldiers who visited her store while her husband talked with Camp doctors and leaders who managed to persuade the Japanese guards to drive to Kanchanaburi for supplies. Boonpong’s wife had learnt a little Japanese from her Japanese neighbour.
Boonpong was contracted by the Japanese to provide supplies to the railway workforce. It was during his delivery visits to work camps along the river/railway Boonpong was to see for himself the horrific conditions the POWs lived in.
He began to secretly worked with a resistance group based in an internment camp Bangkok – the ‘V’ organisation.
In early 1943 Boonpong acted as intermediary between the V organisation and POWs. ‘V’ organisation was run by an interned British man Gairdner – his Thai wife called Millie was free and able to assist. The organisation included many foreign and local business owners who were able to raise large sums of money on loan. Millie was one of those who risked passing money and drugs directly to POWs via the many POW lorry drivers.
Amongst those Boonpong had personal dealings with were Colonel Toosey of Tamarkan and later Weary Dunlop. Boonpong as a Thai river trader and supplier to the Japanese first made contact with Colonel Toosey at Tamarkan. So began a system of smuggling aided by his daughter, to provide much needed medicines.
Boonpong had personally lent his own money during the war (cashing POW cheques, lending money on watches etc to be redeemed after the war) that by 1947 Boonpoong was found to be in financial difficulties. A POW organisation raised funds and at least one British Division Association in response to Col. Toosey’s request donated nearly 40,000 pounds to enable him to set up a bus company in 1948.
Businessman and former mayor of Kanchanaburi from 1942-1945, Boonpong died January 1982 aged 76 years.
After the war, little was known in the outside world of Boonpong and his role.
Thai newspapers reported that in 1948 he was awarded the MBE by the British and Orange-Nassau by the Dutch.
In his 1985 address on Anzac Day at Kanchanaburi Weary Dunlop paid tribute to Boonpong and other Thais who had assisted POWs. In 1986 a Fellowship was established – a collaborative programme between the Royal Australian College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Surgeons Thailand providing Thai surgeons opportunities for surgical training attachments at Australian hospitals.
In 1998 the Australian Government at opening of Hellfire Pass Museum formally recognised the bravery of Boonpong, presenting his grandson with a Certificate of Appreciation for the ‘unrepayable debt’ owed to his grandfather. $50,000 donation was made to the Boonpong-Weary Dunlop Exchange Fellowship.
Above: the original building which housed Boonpong, his family and his grocery store in the old sector of town at 96 Pak Prak Road.
He not only risked his own life, but that of his wife and children.
Below: the streets of this old part of Kanchanaburi with older buildings taken 2018.
The achitecture of the old streets of Kanchanaburi.
Below: from the Beattie Collection. The West Australian 25 April 1986