For members of the Royal British Legion here in Thailand, November is our most active part of the year, we have our membership renewal, the period we call Remembrancetide and our annual Poppy Appeal.
Last year, for our Poppy Appeal Event, we held four major golf tournaments around Thailand, this year we still had our Poppy Golf in Pattaya along with an event we named the Kwai Challenge to mark the 70th year of work commencing on the Thai/Burma railway. This is also referred to as “The Railway of Death” due to the fact that over 13,000 POWs and over 100,000 Asian labourers lost their lives building it.
The Ambassador with James of CC Riders and Tom the secretary of the Mad Dogs.
The Challenge started on 5 November when former U.S. Marine, Frank DeSomer, left Sangkhla Buri just South of Three Pagodas Pass to Cycle and Trek his way to Kanchanaburi, following the route of the original railway wherever possible. Frank told us, “We often left the main road to follow tracks and trails to the original location of POW camps and cemeteries, following the instructions of the historians at the Thai Burma Railway Centre. At one of these locations just off a jungle trail we found two of the original graves still as they were when the bodies were moved to Kanchanaburi; we placed the first of nine wreaths here.
Frank lays our first wreath.
“Another of the many former POW Camps we visited was Tonchan South which is just north of the end of the present day railway at Nam Tok. There is a waterfall here that is now a haven for tourists – little do they know that either side of the top of the waterfall were the long huts housing the POWs and at the bottom was the railway and cemetery. All in all we laid nine wreaths, the last one being at Chungkai just outside Kanchanaburi. Chungkai was the hospital cemetery and remains in its original location.”
Frank covered a total of 280 kilometres during the Challenge, climbed a total of 1,300m in elevation – mostly on the first day. He was on the road for a total of five days; trekking along the railway was hard going and he injured his foot on the third day. “We took a rest day but still managed to be in Kanchanaburi on 10 November, ready for the Remembrance Service on the 11th – this, of course, was part one of the Challenge, part two was still to come.”
The remains of one of the original graves at Shimo Songkurai Cemetery.
At 05.30 am over fifty of our newly formed Royal British Legion Thailand Riders were also at Sangkhla Buri. These were made up of members from CC Darkside Riders, Mad Dogs, Black Sheep and other individual riders. They all placed poppy crosses and a poppy wreath at the start point before they made their way to Kanchanaburi. The riders called in to Hellfire Pass to place another wreath and pick up more riders before arriving at Kanchanaburi and joining up with Frank for the Service of Remembrance at 10.30 am.
Waiting to meet and greet the Challenge were a number of VIPs, including British Ambassador Mark Kent, the defence attaché Captain Ken Taylor and the president of the Royal British Legion Thailand Graham Macdonald. Everyone arrived safely, had a great time and raised a lot of much needed funds for the Poppy Appeal and Thai Veterans Hospital.
Young Burmese monks bless Frank on day one.
After the service, food and drinks were provided compliments of Acorn Distribution and the British Embassy, tents and seating were provided by the Queen Victoria Inn and all the hard work needed to organise such an event was given by our members free of charge.
Our Poppy Appeal this year is being run by members Ron Smith, Rodney Charman and Steve Ryan who are all busy collecting in the boxes. Once again Kim Fletcher from Jameson’s has put in a fantastic effort reaching well over 65,000 baht from his poppy boxes with more to come. We will update you on the total of the appeal once we have it. We also have Poppy Appeals in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Korat, Hua Hin, Kanchanaburi along with many other smaller locations.
Some of our members also met Foreign Secretary William Hague at the British Embassy and discussed such things as pensions, medical care, consular issues and consular closures. “Same, same” many people will say but keep chipping away and one day we may see a crack!
Nobody said it would be easy, Frank climbed 1,300m in elevation on day one.
So a busy but enjoyable time for Legion members, the Kwai Challenge was of course our main event and we hope to raise in the region of 400,000 baht from it. Nothing happens without the good will of sponsors and the main ones for this event were: MBMG, Pattaya Realty, Chillington Tools, DTC Travel, Thailand Riders and Champion Wildlife to whom we are most grateful.
Our Poppy Golf this year was sponsored by the Amari, Tom Cotton and MBMG. We would also like to thank the many bars, restaurants and individuals who have been involved in the Poppy Appeal and look forward to your help again next year. Last but certainly not lease the Pattaya Mail for it’s continued support of the Royal British Legion. Our members will be putting their feet up for a month or so in preparation for our next major event which will be back to Kanchanaburi for Anzac Day on April 25.
Thankfully it wasn’t all mountains and Frank had time to enjoy the view.
Anyone wishing to join the Royal British Legion please contact Bert (details below) or call in to Tropical Bert’s any Sunday from 2pm and should anyone after reading this wish to donate to the Poppy Appeal please see Bert or go to our website www.rblthailand .com where you will find a PayPal Donate button.
Finally a Big Thank You to Frank DeSomer and all the bikers who took the time to take part in the Kwai Challenge.
Bert Elson, Secretary/Welfare Chairman, Royal British Legion Chonburi Thailand, 382/3-5, Moo 9, Pattaya 2nd Road, Nongprue, Banglamung, Chonburi 20260, Thailand, tel. 089 8072335, email [email protected]
The British Ambassador Mark Kent greets some of the bikers.
Frank at the site of Kui Yae POW Camp.
05.30am and the riders lay their Poppy Crosses at the start point.
Some of the riders in Hellfire Pass.
Two of the riders at Hellfire Pass, you may well recognize Patrick of Patrick’s Belgium Restaurant on the right. Patrick served many years in the Belgium Airborne and the French Foreign Legion.
It seemed never ending, but how must they have felt 70 years ago.
We laid one of our wreaths next to this monument at Hellfire Pass.
Frank walking the line.
A small Poppy Cross on an unknown Grave.
Buddhist monks bless all the graves before our Remembrance Service.
The Thailand branch stretches far and wide; here branch member Mo Morrison (left) is collecting in Kabul Afghanistan, we raised $1,300.
Some of our members with William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary.
Derek Brook (left) and Graham Macdonald (right) with the winners of this year’s Poppy Golf.
The riders on the way.
The riders on the ferry in Bangkok.
Members of the support team with the British Ambassador, British Defence Attaché & wife and Graham Macdonald.
Some of the riders and Frank (left) meet up in Kanchanaburi.
MBMG kindly hosted dinner for the support staff and of course the ambassador
We fed and watered over 300 after the service.
Grieg Ritchie dishing out breakfast to 50 hungry bikers plus everyone else.