Order Of Australia Medal (OAM) – Khun Kanit Wanachote

By decree of the Governor General of Australia, Khun Kanit Wanachote of Home Phu Toey Resort, Tarsau, Thailand, was recently awarded an honorary Order Of Australia Medal (OAM) in the Honors and Awards system of Australia.

Khun Kanit Wanachote, a citizen of the Kingdom of Thailand, has served the Australian Community by his contribution to the preservation of Australian/Thailand history generally. In particular, he has 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 has assisted in reinforcing the establishment of the repute of Australian of the Year, Sir Edward Dunlop.

Khun Kanit Wanachote’s association with Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop commenced fortuitously when exPOWs and Thailand Burma Railway survivors, the late Keith Flanagan OAM and Bill Haskell OAM, decided in 1985 to organize the ‘Weary Dunlop Tour”, a tour retracing the course of Surgeon and 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 exPOWs who had actually been in the area. Weary Dunlop and Khun Kanit struck a chord, which was the genesis of an enduring association.

In 1987 there was a further tour of Thailand when the touring party visited the scene of Hellfire Pass where Sir Edward dedicated a memorial in the pass, predicting that the area would become as well known as Gallipoli.

Messrs Flanagan and Haskell laid the foundations for the annual Quiet Lion Tours, which continue to this day. In 2003 the Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association (Inc) was formed to conduct the tours. From 1997 a concerted effort was made to include (and later concentrate on) High School students on the tours in achieving the Association’s objective.

Khun Kanit has been prominent in scouting. He is a Baden Powell Fellow 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.

Since 1997 in excess of 1100 people have been on Quiet Lion Tours and stayed at Home Phu Toey. The number includes in excess of 430 juniors as of the 2009 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 Loy Krathong ceremony 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 miniature 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, opened 2000 is an integral part of Home Phu Toey Peace Park.

On the eve of each Anzac Day, Khun Kanit caters for the large crowd of visitors and provides 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 in English, combined with the music of the times, sound effects and an operating 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 arrives for a five-night stay, Khun Kanit hosts a welcome dinner and the sound and light show and introduces guests to aspects of Thai culture. 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 provides a farewell dinner in the Weary Dunlop Park and hosts the now famous talent quest concert where the Quiet Lion tour party, particularly the juniors, entertain their host. The experience encourages self-confidence for the young Australians and provides an opportunity for them to display those new attributes they have adopted, the values they have experienced and the examples of dealing with adversity – during the Tour.

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.

Khun Kanit accommodates the Quiet Lion Tour party at a huge discount and the juniors are his guests with no charge levied for their accommodation and food.

On two recent tours, where an extra large number of persons were on the tour, Khun Kanit temporarily converted a Conference Centre to a fully equipped dormitory to accommodate sixteen schoolboys and two housemasters, all at no charge.

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.

This man was eminently suitable for recognition by the Australian Honors and Award system, notwithstanding by an honorary award due his non-Australian nationality..

For the Governor General’s web site published record click here

Bill Haskell and Khun Kanit Wanachote