It could take a while to relate this chapter in my quest. I has a number of segments. I’ll do my best to make it understandable as to how it fits the TBR story.
I began my first visit to the NongPlaDuk Station with a visit to the nearby Wat Khok Mo. Often temples are repositories for historical items. But we drew a blank there. No one we spoke to knew of any WW2 relics and they simply pointed us down the road to the railway station.
Months later I stumbled on to this PDF file that seems to be 1 of a series.
Prompted by this I visited the temple in downtown BanPong just a bit east of the current railway station. It is located in the curve of the tracks were they begin the westward trek to Kanchanaburi as it swings thru BanPong from NongPlaDuk. [see gallery below] Although spelled as Daun Dtum in Thai, it seems to be mainly transliterated as Dom Toom.
I was in search of the five items mentioned in the article:
- The bell made from a bomb casing
- The Abbot’s clock
- The IJA chedi
- The Abbot’s memorial
- The POW camp
The Bell: The first monk we spoke to was a young fellow who knew something of the history but referred us to a more senior monk. Both told the same story: The bell had been STOLEN out of the temple some years ago! [INCREDIBLE !?!?]
The Clock: Neither monk knew anything about the clock.
The Chedi: We found the chedi among a small group of like structures. There is nothing to set it apart from the many chedis that look very much the same. This temple was somewhat unique in my experience in that there were small groups of chedis scattered around the grounds and there were all of the same style: very short.
The Memorial: This proved to be more problematic. The caption in the article cites this as a memorial to the WW2-era Abbot long since deceased) and its location on the ‘old site’. The more senior monk had no knowledge of the memorial per se. But he directed us to the ’old site’ as he knew it.
Modern development has split the temple grounds with a roadway. Tucked away about 500m north of the current temple site is a burial ground with dozens of standard chedis. The site is neglected and heavily overgrown. There were no building of any sort; only crypts and chedis. It seemed almost to be a mixture of Thai (chedis) and Chinese (family crypts) and possibly even other religions. Many of the graves were Christian-style single graves sites.
As we drove through this area trying to avoid fallen branches and creeping vines, we found ourselves in the far back corner of the grave yard. That is where we spotted first one, then a second and then a total of 4 small chedis completely overgrown and abandoned.
These all bore a striking resemblance to the photo in the article but were in a state of decay and disrepair. It seemed odd that if indeed these were connected to the former venerated Abbot that they would have been allowed to deteriorate so far! I suspect that what we found was in some way related but is not the actual item pictured by the author of the article.
[I will attempt to determine the whereabouts of the venerated Abbot’s remains on a future visit. Perhaps that will lead us to more complete information on this topic. The cited article notes documents and photos that MAY be present in his quarters if they were preserved.]
The Camp: As we spoke to the 2 monks we were practically standing on the playing field that the article describes as the site of a POW compound. However, neither monk knew anything specific about a POW camp except that indeed there was one in the general area. The article clearly states that the playing field was the actual site of at least part of the BanPong POW camp.
In short then, our first rather short visit this site was productive to a point, but warrants further investigation. The sheer fact that an item of historical significance was apparently STOLEN off the temple grounds amounts to a case of archeological LOOTING, IMHO!
It is going to take some considerable digging to uncover whatever story can be preserved out of the seeds in that article. I have learned that the author of this excellent essay is David Boggett of the Kyoto-Seika Univ and I am making inroads into finding the other articles in this series.
Partial expansion of the story of the IJA chedi (#3 above). It seems that in the late 1980s a group of former IJA soldiers approached the Abbot to gain permission to erect a monument to IJA soldiers. Otherwise, why would they have chosen this particular temple for their memorial? Reference is made in the article about the CWGC Allied cemetery in Kanchanaburi (this temple is actually in the neighboring Province of Ratchburi) concerning the lack of ‘commemoration’ of the IJA dead. Per the article, there were no remains of any IJA soldiers to be interred so about 100 names were inscribed on bamboo strips in lieu of bones. The inscription denotes the dedication date as 1991 (2534) but the range of dates for the IJA deaths is odd at 1941-43. I had presumed they were referring to soldiers who were KIA in Allied bombings of the area in 1945, but this in not specified in the article and the dates belie that. The inscription says: Dedicated to the IJA soldiers who were KIA or died of disease in this area of BanPong during WW2 (1941-1943).
There is also mention of an actual building on the temple grounds referred to as the KATSUTA WAR BEREAVED FAMILIES bldg. [This will warrant further investigation.]
The clock (item 32 above) was handed over as a gift to the Abbot. It presumably resides in his quarters but neither of the monks we spoke to knew anything of it nor did they mention any museum-style remembrance of the Abbot or his quarters.