Thai Railway Engineer
Boon Dunn and Family (1907-1963)
By S.D. Wilks
Received from Raleuk Dunn & Family in Hat-Yai (Songkhla Province) 2008
Boon Dunn was a Thai railway engineer who worked at Hat-Yai Junction railway depot in Siam’s Singora (Songkhla) Province during World War 2.
Boon was educated at a school in Penang in Malaya, and later at the prestigious Assumption College in Bangkok. His aunt looked him after in Bangkok, as his mother had died in 1916.
Boon apprenticed as a railway engineer, and went to work at Kaeng-Koi, Khorat and Khonkaen - before being sent to Hat-Yai junction. Whilst working at Kaeng-Koi, Boon witnessed the aftermath of the infamous ‘Hanomag Incident’ - in which many soldiers were killed in a train crash while being carried into Bangkok to take part in a royalist rebellion.
Boon had two sons from a first marriage, and three sons and two daughters from another marriage after his first wife died. All his offspring are still alive. Many live in Bangkok, and have been highly successful in their business, government & diplomatic careers.
Boon Dunn and his son, Raleuk, went to Bangkok by train several times during the WW2. When the train stopped at Pladuk Junction (after the 1942 Japanese invasion), there would often be scantily-clothed allied POWs near the station’s water-tower taking a bath. Father and son both liked to throw packets/envelopes of cigarettes, food and money to the POWs, when no guards were looking. These packs included a short message in English saying something like "From Boon Dunn". Prison camp guards would often beat prisoners who were observed picking up such packages, as quite a few train passengers liked to donate something.
Harry Thorpe (PoW) - The mainline passenger train from Bangkok passed close to our camp, and if one of our work party happened to be working nearby, upper class passengers would toss ‘goodies’ like packets of cigarettes, or even rolled notes (money). It had to be out of sight of the Korean sentry, because it wasn’t wise to be seen or you were likely to receive summary punishment like a clout round the head"
Raleuk also says that Boon Dunn's Hat-Yai railway precinct house had a well to which ‘romusha’ slave laborers were sent by the IJA to get water for the station’s IJA field-kitchen. (These laborers were probably involved in building ‘fake hills’ to conceal freight trains at Hat-Yai Junction and at nearby Na Muang Station on the Sungai Golok line.) The Dunn family often concealed food (such as home-baked bread) in the (cloth-covered) water pails for the romusha to eat. Only small amounts of food could be hastily concealed in the pails as the ‘romusha’ passed the house. There were also some other ‘prisoners’ at the station on work details. It isn’t exactly clear if these other prisoners all came from allied forces, or whether some were also locally-resident civilian expatriate detainees. (If this was the case, it is possible that some of them were Boon Dunn’s pre-war friends from nearby Singora.) Boon Dunn and his wife would often go to a local market to buy crab for this group of prisoners. This crab would be steamed, with egg then added to the shell. The resulting mixture was then fried to create a nutritious local dish called ‘Bpoo Ja’. Apparently, this food was also smuggled in water pails.
Above is a picture of Boon Dunn in Royal Siamese Railways (RSR) uniform circa WW2. Boon’s half-european features placed him under some suspicion with the IJA, but his state uniform, his important duties and his Siamese citizenship essentially placed him beyond their jurisdiction.
It is said that Boon Dunn received a medal from the British Royal Family for his assistance to allied POWs and/or civilian internees. This medal might have been either a King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom (KMCCF) or a King’s Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom (KMSCF). There is, however, some thought that the medal was presented by Queen Elizabeth 2. It is, I suppose, possible that the young Queen actually presented a medal granted by her father just before he died. The other possibility is that Boon Dunn actually received some form of Queen’s Medal of approximate equivalence to either a KMCCF or a KMSCF. Certainly, it is said that the KMCCF was presented to a number of Siamese post-WW2, for deeds similar to those of Boon Dunn. But it is perhaps worth noting that the KMSCF actually pictures an act of courage in providing food and drink to the oppressed. Boon’s medal is said to still exist in a relative’s house in Bangkok. It is hoped that this medal can examined, photographed and identified in the near future.
Khun Krasae, a Hat-Yai woman, also received the same medal for similar deeds, this was confirmed by Raleuk and his wife. Also Orachun Thanapong, a 12 year old living at Chiang-Mai, received an award (Orachun Thanapong grew up to be a diplomat and now occasionally works as an intellectual property judge).
It is believed that the efforts of Boon Dunn and his family to help prisoners of the IJA were greatly motivated by Boon’s realization that he had seen little other than war and conflict since his birth - in the form of WW1, the 1933 Royalist Rebellion, the Franco-Siam War and WW2.
Raleuk Dunn is now retired and in his 70s. (One of Raleuk’s sons still works at the local rail depot.)
Boon Dunn died in Hat-Yai in 1963.