Khun Kanit Wanachote’s association with Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop commenced when ex POWs and Thailand Burma Railway survivors Keith Flanagan OAM and Bill Haskell OAM decided in 1985 to organize the ‘Weary Dunlop Tour”, a tour retracing the course of Surgeon and Force Commander, Colonel (Later Sir) Edward Dunlop and his Force from Java through to Thailand (in World War Two) and having his exploits recognized.
A chance meeting occurred between Sir Edward Dunlop and Khun Kanit Wanachote when the touring party met Khun Kanit whilst traveling up the Kwai Noi River hoping to locate the Kannyu and Hintok River Camps, which were in the region of Hellfire Pass.
Khun Kanit was developing his Home Phu Toey Resort down river from the camps.
With the proximity of Hellfire Pass to his development, Khun Kanit had constantly thought of there being some association between the Burma Thailand Railway and his project and here were a group of Australian ex POWs who had actually been in the area, including the revered Doctor/Surgeon, Sir Edward (Weary) Dunlop, who was already well known. Weary Dunlop and Khun Kanit struck a chord, which was the genesis of an enduring association.
Khun Kanit dedicated a large section of his resort into a Weary Dunlop Park which includes the Weary Dunlop Pavilion.
Khun Kanit Wanachote of Home Phu Toey Resort, Tarsau, Thailand, was nominated for an honorary OAM (General Division) in the Honors and Awards system of Australia.
The nomination submission suggested that Khun Kanit Wanachote, a had served the Australian Community by his contribution to the preservation of Australian/Thailand history. In particular, he had assisted significantly in perpetuating the memory of the privations and sacrifices of Australian Military personnel and the selfless dedication of the medical personnel during the construction of the Burma Thailand Railway in World War 11. Further, that at the same time he had assisted in reinforcing the establishment of the repute of Australian of the Year, Sir Edward Dunlop.
Khun Kanit had been prominent in the scouting movement in Thailand. He was a Baden Powell Fellow (presented by The King of Sweden) and a member of the Senior Counci1 of the National Scout Assembly of Thailand. Accordingly, he was readily receptive to the concept of youth perpetuating the story of Weary Dunlop and the Burma Thailand Railway and he has always insisted the Quiet Lion Tour stay as his guests at Home Phu Toey Resort, a 190-hectare estate set in beautiful tropical gardens, eighty kilometers upriver from Kanchanaburi and four kilometers from Hellfire Pass.
In excess of 1100 people have been on Quiet Lion Tours and stayed at Home Phu Toey. The number includes 400 juniors as of the 2013 Tour.
Home Phu Toey Resort has become the focus of the Quiet Lion Tours and is central to the annual Anzac Day Dawn Service at Hellfire Pass.
Following are some examples of the contributions of Khun Kanit Wanachote to the success of the Quiet Lion Tours.
After Weary’s death some of his ashes were taken back to Thailand during a tour. A part of the ashes were spread in Hellfire Pass. The balance was floated down the Kwai Noi from Home Phu Toey Resort in a ceremony devised and overseen by Khun Kanit Wanachote.
First the ashes were blessed as those of an “enlightened soul” in a Buddhist ceremony organized by Weary’s medical friends. As they floated down the river on a candle-lit boat at dusk, ten others followed, five launched by Thais and five by Australians. The night finished with fireworks and Weary’s name spelt out in letters of fire on the hillside.
The dominant feature of Home Phu Toey is the Peace Park where Sir Edward’s statue has pride of place. Perched on rails on a ledge on the side of the hill and floodlit, an old locomotive and wagon overlook the scene. There is also the replica of a POW camp.
The Weary Dunlop museum, dedicated by Khun Kanit to his friend “Weary”, overlooks the park guarded by a huge carved wooden statue of “Weary” Dunlop. Sir Edward’s son and other relatives formally opened the Dunlop Museum on 24 April 1997.
The Jack Chalker Gallery is an integral part of Home Phu Toey Peace Park. It was opened on 20 October 2000 by Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana. On the eve of each Anzac Day, Khun Kanit catered for the large crowd of visitors and provided the Sound and Light Show where a model “Bridge on the River Kwai” crosses a small stream. The story of the bombing of the bridge on 24 June 1945 is narrated, combined with the music of the times, sound effects and a miniature train, ending in shattering explosions, gunpowder flashes and the collapse of the central spans of the model bridge.
The show sets the tone for the Hellfire Pass Dawn Service and Wreath Laying Ceremony. Sir Edward later referred to “the remarkable” and “rather mysterious” Kanit who was something, he said, of a modern Kublai Khan. When the Quiet Lion Tour party arrived for a five-night stay, Khun Kanit (and before her passing, his wife Khun Oonjai) hosted a welcome dinner and the sound and light show. The tour party dines variously in the Peace Park, the main dining room, on the lawns outside the dining room and on the “Green Beach” by the river and the swimming pool. Khun Kanit provided a farewell dinner in the Weary Dunlop Park and hosted the now famous talent quest concert where Quiet Lion juniors entertained their friend and benefactor. Due to Khun Kanit’s good offices, a Buddhist ceremony is held each year during the Quiet Lion Tour. This ceremony pays homage to those who died in WW11 but in particular to the POWs who died during the construction of the Burma Thailand Railway. On a recent tour where an extra large number of persons were on the tour, Khun Kanit temporarily converted a Conference Centre to a dormitory to accommodate sixteen schoolboys and two housemasters. Without the generosity of Khun Kanit Wanachote it would be difficult to achieve the objective of the Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association.
It is not only the history of the Burma Thailand Railway that can be taught to Australian youth by the generosity of Khun Kanit Wanachote. Ex POWs are able to revisit areas where they were incarcerated and thus obtain some closure. The relatives of the POWs are able to also achieve closure by visiting graves and participating in the ceremonies. Being able to visit and experience the Dawn Service at Hellfire Pass and the Wreath Laying Ceremony at Kanchanaburi is a most moving experience. All this is possible due to the generosity of a great man whose attributes were instantly recognized by a great Australian, Sir Edward (Weary) Dunlop.
It was proposed that Khun Kanit was eminently suitable for recognition by the Australian Honors and Award system, notwithstanding by an honorary award. He was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia (OAM) medal in 2010.
The decree stated that Khun Kanit Wanachote, had served the Australian Community by his contribution to the preservation of Australian/Thailand history generally. In particular, he had assisted significantly in perpetuating the memory of the privations and sacrifices of Australian Military personnel and the selfless dedication of the medical personnel during the construction of the Burma Thailand Railway in World War 11. At the same time he had assisted in reinforcing the establishment of the repute of Australian of the Year, Sir Edward Dunlop.
Khun Kanit’s award was presented to him by His Excellency Paul Grigson, Australian Ambassador to Thailand on Australia Day, 2010 at the Australian Embassy, Bangkok. The late Bill Haskell and Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association Chairman Eric Wilson attended the ceremony.
(this post with great thanks to Eric Wilson)