Kanchanaburi province plans to pay tribute to Boonpong Sirivejjabhandu, who, together with Australian surgeon Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop, were known as “The Quiet Lions” for their heroics during World War II.
A musical play will tell the story during the extended annual River Kwai Bridge Week celbberations held in Kanchanaburi’s Muang district from November 24 to December 6.
Boonpong was a local trader who, despite the risk of torture and death, used his contract with the Imperial Japanese Army to supply the canteens of Allied prisoners of war (POWs) as a cover to bring much-needed medical supplies and other necessities to the prisoners, including Dunlop.
The musical play based on his story will feature in the River Kwai Bridge Week and Kanchanaburi Red Cross Fair 2017.
River Kwai Bridge Week aims to promote tourism and create greater awareness of Kanchanaburi as a destination for both domestic and international tourists.
The highlight is the light-and-sound show that tells the story of the POWs who built the infamous “Death Railway”, including the bridge on the River Kwai and the “Hellfire Pass” mountain cutting.
Boonpong was born on April 21, 1906 in Pak Praek Market area of Muang Kanchanaburi as the eldest son among seven children of Dr Khien Sirivejjabhandu and Lamjiak Sirivejjabhandu.
He was the elder brother of former minister and Kanchanaburi MP Phaen Sirivejjabhandu.
Boonpong married Surat Cha-umpreuk and they had a daughter, Panee Supawat. After graduating from Suan Kularb Wittayalai high school in 1926, Boonpong served as a civil servant in the Railway Department for eight years. He resigned to join a family business, a trade shop named “Boonpong and Brothers”.
He also served as Muang Kanchanaburi mayor for some time. At his own risk, Boonpong took the chance to help the POWs by smuggling items, especially life-saving medicines for them.
After the war, Boonpong moved to Bangkok to run a bus business for which the Allies had awarded him nearly 200 vehicles seized from the Imperial Japanese Army.
England recognised Boonpong’s cool courage with the George Cross while Dunlop, renowned for his leadership while being held prisoner during World War II, was later knighted by Queen Elizabeth.
Together, they the Weary Dunlop-Boonpong Exchange Fellowship Foundation to give scholarships to Thai medical students to study in Australia.
Boonpong passed away on January 29, 1982 from an aortic aneurysm. His death was reported in many countries and war veterans praised his bravery and the assistance that saved their lives.
In 1998, at the opening of the Hellfire Pass POW Museum, the Australian government formally recognised Boonpong’s courage, by presenting his grandson, Veerawej Subhawat, with a certificate of appreciation for the “unrepayable debt” owed to his grandfather and donated $50,000 (now about Bt1.3 million) to the exchange fellowship.
A television soap opera based on Boonpong’s true story was broadcast on Thai PBS in 2013.