Interview with the the Curator of the Kanchanaburi
War Cemetery - December 24, 2004
Andrew Mason writes: I am a historian and
have written a book titled, A Different Brand Of
English. Some of your readers may be interested in what the
Curator of the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery has to say in my interview.
(Photo: Andrew Mason)
An Interview with the Rod Beattie, Curator of the
Kanchanaburi War Cemetery and Director of Research of the TBRC, conducted
by Andrew Mason
Q. How did you first hear of the Thai/Burma Railway? In Australia or abroad?
A. Whilst in Australia I knew no more or less than anyone else. I got
my first book about the railway as a school prize in 1966. My real knowledge
started after moving to Kanchanaburi to work for a Thai company mining
sapphires at Bo Phloi.
Q. Have you served in the military?
A. Yes, six years in the Army Reserve (1969-76).
Q. What is your profession? (OK Jack of All Trades - but what does your
A. Jack of all Trades. Three tertiary qualifications. Two in Civil Engineering.
One in Gemology. Trade qualifications as Heavy Plant Operator and Truck
Driver. Master gem cutter. I am multi-qualified.
Q. Why your passion for the TBR?
A. I don't know other than a desire to learn more and to help other people.
Q. What year did you get to Kanchanaburi?
Q. Was it the same year you started as Curator of Kanburi Cemetery?
A. No. It was not until 1994 that I got involved in the railway. 1995
appointed Manager of the War Cemeteries.
Q. How did you get the job?
A. The British Embassy contacted me to ask for help in finding a new Manager.
I gave them local advice which they passed on to CWGC. CWGC came back
and asked if I was interested in the job. I said 'Yes'.
Q. What is your relationship with OAWG like? Is it very bureaucratic?
A. Since my contract as Project Manager of the Hellfire Pass Museum Project
finished in 1998 I have had no formal relationship with OAWG. Unofficially
I work closely with the Manager of the Hellfire Pass Museum.
Q. Do you think political correctness is a thing that has little place
in the TBRC or the HFP Museum etc?
A. Absolutely. The truth would be better and more appropriate.
Q. I know you cleared a lot of railway with your wife, how much did you
clear and how long did it take?
A. A total of 8 kilometres. Two years. Only 4 and a bit kilometres are
now maintained by OAWG as the walking trail.
Q. Were you ever concerned about the tropical diseases etc, that our predecessors
suffered, occurring to you whilst working there?
A. Not at all. I was brought up in the Australian bush so felt completely
at home in the jungle. The diseases are still here but in our present
state of health we will not be affected provided we use normal health
precautions. The son of one of my labourers had a tropical ulcer which
was only cured after I put him in Kanchanaburi's best private hospital.
Q. How is your relationship with exPOWs that visit--there must have been
many over the years--who sticks in your mind as the typical bloke you
connected with most?
A. Excellent, with those who know me personally. I really can't pick out
any one individual of the very large number. They are almost universally
wonderful men. A tiny number use their status as former POWs to their
own advantage. The one who I owe the deepest debt is Tom Morris. He was
the one person who had the courtesy to discuss with me what was going
on in Kanchanaburi three years ago, when I and my plans for the TBRC were
the subject of so much bad press. He believed in what I was doing and
stood by me - unlike many others who have not met me and simply believed
what they read or heard.
Q. What was Weary
Dunlop like when he was in town?
A. I never met Weary.
Q. What about Japanese? Have you had many dealings with them visiting
over the years?
A. Yes, many visit Kanchanaburi. Most know nothing of the true story.
As an historian I put aside my personal feelings in an attempt to get
the Japanese side of the story. It is important that a balanced story
be recorded for historical purposes. I have a close relationship with
a senior Japanese Engineer and other Japanese interested in the story
being told accurately.
Q. A little birdie tells me that you may have had an altercation with
some 'characters' in the cemetery playing up and being disrespectful?
What happened? Who were they and why did they make it out alive?
A. Only a minor one, two or three. I am very mindful of the position I
hold and only extremely distasteful behaviour will provoke me. Like Koreans
running around climbing trees. Like a bus load of Japanese using the hedge
as a toilet. Like some ignorant Thais sitting on headstones.
Q. How long are you going to stay in Thailand? Will you ever leave?
A. Totally dependent on the future education of my three little girls.
Secondary education in Kanchanaburi is not good so I may move back to
Australia for this.
Q. The TBRC has been a long time coming. Has other museums like JEATH
even Hellfire Pass (HFP) Museum been annoyed at this new one or have they
A. Terrified would probably be a better description. I have a close relationship
with the Manager of the HFP Museum so we actively promote each other.
I offered a space in my TBRC to OWAG for a HFP display and this offer
Q. What is your project at Chungkai doing? What have you unearthed?
A. A huge 'dig'. Hundreds of items. Personal possessions, camp items,
tools, numerous medicine bottles, the actual
Q. What do you miss about Australia? (Rugby, AFL, Fish'n'Chips, Meat Pies?)
A. The ease of travelling and going on holidays. Packing up the car, trailer
and boat and heading off in any direction. Camping by a western stream
and fishing for yellow belly. Pulling into a caravan park anywhere on
the coast and putting the tinnie in the water. Cleanliness and order of
daily life. But there are also many things I don't miss.
Q. Have royalty shown interest before in the Thai-Burma Railway and its
A. Very little interest shown by any Thais. Khun Kanit is an exception...
We have just had a visit by the Queen of the Netherlands.
Kanchanaburi is about a two-three hour trip by bus
from Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal, cost 79 baht one way. The Kanchanaburi
War Cemetery is located on Sangchuto Road about 15 minutes walk from the
bus terminal. The Thai-Burma Railway Centre is located in a street that
overlooks the cemetery--a two storey building with the upper storey overlooking
parts of the war cemetery, it costs 60 baht to enter.
A Different Brand Of English is a comprehensive travel guide and
has an emphasis on WW2 Singapore and Thailand. It guides the traveler
around Kranji, Chungkai and Kanchanaburi War Cemeteries and includes
many graves of war time luminaries to visit with next of kin permission
and in some cases includes photographs of the deceased all with information
on how and where they died etc.
It guides the traveler to cuttings, Bridge Over the River Kwai, Hellfire
Pass, POW Camps, Changi Prison etc. The travel guidebook also consists
of Ex Prisoner of War (POW) interviews of men who toiled on the Thai-Burma
Railway & includes an interview with the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
and Museum Director/Curator. Along with never published before prison
camp reports marked SECRET and released before the end of the war
for Australian Prison Camp Investigators. The Australian Prime Minister
provided comments exclusively for the book about his travel in and
around Hellfire Pass. Has over 150 photographs from many and varied
luminaries including many of George Aspinall's war time collection,
exclusive pictures of the Queen of Holland in the Thai War Museum,
contemporary shots of Singapore and Thailand's memorials, plaques
and places of interest, including Australian War Memorial photographs
and maps etc.The guidebook also discusses the main touristy attractions
in both countries including Raffles Hotel, Singapore Cricket Club,
Merlion, Bangkok Palace, Bangkok Prison, Patpong Market to Phuket
etc. It has a recommended restaurant guide, a hotel stay guide and
tips and travel advice down to scams to avoid with up to date foreign
A Different Brand Of English is available
online for AUD$25.