THE GRO­CER

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Pat­tie Wright

THE Ja­panese ini­tially con­tracted Boon Pong, a lo­cal mer­chant in Kan­chanaburi, to sup­ply the prison can­teens along the ( Kwai No) river, while they took their ob­vi­ous cut of the prof­its. So Boon Pong be­came

the gro­cer sup­ply­ing the camps’’, us­ing river barges to sup­ply camps as far up the Kwai Noi as Tarkanoon, in Thai­land.

He and a se­cret un­der­ground move­ment called V, cen­tred in Bangkok, helped to sup­ply money, medicine and food to many of the camps along the Thai- Burma rail­way un­der the noses of the Ja­panese. Boon Pong would take his 12- year- old daugh­ter, Pa­nee, on his trips up- river and she would sing Ja­panese songs to the guards while Boon Pong handed over sup­plies to the pris­on­ers of war. He also cashed per­sonal cheques for pris­on­ers and paid for drugs with his own money.

He did this with rel­a­tive ease, but at great per­sonal dan­ger. What is amaz­ing is that Boon Pong had pre­vi­ously had no con­tact with Euro­peans prior to the out­break of war. Boon Pong was a mer­chant in Kan­chanaburi and had made con­tact with the An­glo- Siam Cor­po­ra­tion, meet­ing a Cor­po­ral John­son. Both were in­struc­tive in the ini­tial set­ting up of the un­der­ground move­ment. Sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance came from mem­bers of the ex­pat com­mu­nity in Bangkok, in par­tic­u­lar from a man called Peter Heath, who was at the time in­terned in a civil­ian camp un­der the Thai army. The ex­pat com­mu­nity and many Thais and Chi­nese mer­chants in Bangkok as­sisted with the sim­ple do­na­tion of money.

Peter Heath, Ken Gaird­ner and Dick Hemp­son were the main­stays of the V or­gan­i­sa­tion in Bangkok. It was a com­plete un­der­ground aid or­gan­i­sa­tion, and with­out th­ese peo­ple and Boon Pong as the pub­lic un­der­cover face, many thou­sands of men would sim­ply have per­ished from star­va­tion and dis­ease on the Line.

Pic­tures: Cour­tesy the Aus­tralian War Me­mo­rial

Cling­ing to life: On the Thai­land Rail­way ( 1946) by Harold Ab­bott

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