In 1985, ex POW, the late Keith Flanagan, a West Australian journalist and a member of Dunlop Force on the Burma Thailand Railway, organised a return journey to Java, Singapore & Thailand. The party included Sir Edward “Weary Dunlop”, Bill Haskell and their wives, a number of ex POWs as well as several well known journalists including the late Hugh Schmitt.
This was not an ordinary sight-seeing tour. As well as reuniting mates (many of whom had not seen each other since the end of the war) to relive their war and POW experiences, the journalists sent back daily reports on the trip.
Following this initial tour and on his own initiative, the late Keith Flanagan organised and led the ensuing tours, Bill Haskell, also on the railway with Weary Dunlop, joined Keith and became the story teller on the tours.
The original objective was to pass on the inspiring legend of Weary Dunlop, during and after the war, to young people. Since 1997 when organised parties of high school students became a regular feature, over 200 have participated.
As age and ill health gradually took its toll on the survivors of the Railway and to ensure its continuity, a new generation of volunteers became involved and in 2002 the Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association Inc was formed. The new organisation, which still included the ex POWs such as the initial instigator, the late Keith Flanagan, as well as Bill Haskell and Neil MacPherson, took over the organisation of the annual pilgrimage still known as the Quiet Lion Tour. The aim of subsequent tours was to pass on the legend of Weary Dunlop and provide young Australians with a role model who represented virtues as honour, courage, compassion and devotion to duty.
As the tour grew in fame and size, other ex-POWs, friends and family members interested in the story of Weary Dunlop and involved in the Burma-Thailand Railway in general joined Bill and Keith to support and expand what had become known as the Quiet Lion Tour. The purpose of the tour also expanded to honour not only Weary Dunlop’s achievements and example, but to pass on the story of the Burma-Thailand Railway and remember the sacrifices of all who slaved on it – those who paid the ultimate price at the time and since – and the survivors.
During an early tour, while travelling down the Kwai Noi river, the tour party called in to what they thought was a restaurant and met Kanit and the late Oonjai Wanachote, who were living on a moored houseboat while building a home on land at Phu Toey, a few kilometres from Hellfire Pass. Kanit and Oonjai’s offer of hospitality on that first visit led to a life-long friendship with Weary Dunlop and the Wanachote’s home grew to become a large resort. The Quiet Lion Tour stays at Kanit’s Home Phu Toey resort each year now – our home away from home.
Why the “Quiet Lion Tour”?
Among those interred in the POW camps in Java were black Ambonese soldiers of the Dutch army. They named Weary Dunlop Singa yang Diam – the Quiet Lion in their Malay language for his great heart and soft voice.