Bangkok Post reviews
The spirit of resistance
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: January 16, 2014 at 8:27 am
Small museum tells the story of Phrae's role in defying Japanese occupation forces during WWII
The privately-owned Seri Thai Museum.
In the sleepy town of Phrae, a museum is dedicated to the courage of local people who devoted themselves during World War II.
At the back of the Paradorn Hotel, in the heart of the business district, the small museum tells a big story. The Seri Thai Museum focuses on the covert operations of the Free Thai Movement in the town which was an important base of the movement.
The Seri Thai, or Free Thai Movement, was an underground resistance group that took on the Japanese invaders during World War II. They were an important source of military intelligence for the Allies in the region.
The Seri Thai Museum is a lonely place. I was the only visitor that day and no staff showed up.
Strolling the small museum packed with numerous signs and information boards, I drifted through a little-known period of Thai history.
Imperial Japan launched its attack on Southeast Asia on Dec 7, 1941, which led to the full development of the Pacific War. This included numerous landings in Thailand. After initially resisting, the Thai government reluctantly agreed to let the Japanese pass through the country and use its military bases to strike other Allied possessions in the region.
The Thai government declared war on Britain and the US on Jan 25, 1942. MR Seni Pramoj, the Thai ambassador in Washington, refused to deliver the declaration to the US government. The US refrained from declaring war on Thailand. MR Seni organised the Free Thai Movement with American assistance and recruited Thai students in the US to work with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The OSS trained Thai volunteers for underground activities.
By the end of the war, more than 50,000 Thais had been trained and armed to resist the Japanese.
Thong Kanthatham, a former MP from Phrae, was among the first group of friends of Dr Pridi Banomyong, the statesman who supported the idea of setting up an underground movement against the Japanese in Thailand. He established the Phrae Free Thai to support Seri Thai.
Phrae Free Thai played a significant role in the resistance. Its Operation Numeral covered the whole of the North, which was widely blanketed with dense forest at that time. The operation started in March 1945, aiming at military intelligence, seeking information about the Japanese army's activities in the region.
With support from the OSS, the group set up a secret radio station to communicate with a British military base in India. Phrae Free Thai provided information about the locations of Japanese strategic places such as bridges and army bases to facilitate Allied attacks. Thong, leader of Phrae Free Thai, also alerted local people about the invasion and prepared them for battle.
Thousands of Phrae people were trained and ready to attack the Japanese army, but the war came to an end with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The museum's exhibitions are divided into four sections dealing with the formation of Seri Thai, Phrae Free Thai's operations, the formation of Seri Thai in the US and Britain, the end of WWII and Thailand's independence.
Important events and figures are described in brief summaries on story boards. They include the story of Thong Kanthatham and other leading Seri Thai members. Models and pictures depict the difficulties faced by Phrae Free Thai members working in the jungles while Japanese occupied the entire region.
Situated in a wooden house, the museum displays the equipment used in operations such as field radios as well as uniforms and camping gear. Recreated pictures depict operations in the deep jungle, such as patrolling on foot to Lampang, weapons training and military intelligence.
At the back, replicas of atomic bombs educate the younger generation about the end of the war in Japan.
The exhibits in this small museum may not be exciting for everybody, but the story they tell should make the people of Phrae proud of their forebears.
- Phrae province is 555km north of Bangkok. Motorists can take Highway 11. The driving time is around seven hours.
- Seri Thai Museum is privately financed and operated by Puchong Kanthatham, son of Thong Kanthatham. Admission is free.
- The museum is located in the parking area of Paradorn Hotel, 177 Yantra Kitkosol Road, Muang Phrae. Call the hotel on 054-511-177 for more information.