215th Meeting – November 2001

Medicine & Public Health in Chiang Mai during World War Two

A talk by Dr. Ted Brown 

 Dr. Brown based his talk on the following chronological timeline of events.

Thailand in World War II

December 1938: Field Marshall Pibulsonggram became Prime Minister of Siam.

June 1939: Siam became Thailand, but not for long.

September 3rd 1939: World War II began in Europe. Thailand declared neutrality.

June 12th 1940: Thailand signed non-aggression pacts with Britain and France.

November 28th 1940: A border dispute with the French began when Thai soldiers advanced into the border area of Battambong and Srisophon along the Cambodian frontier and also into Champasak. Fighting was limited to a small-scale bombing of military installations near the Thai-Indo-Chinese frontier.

January 1941: Under Japanese mediation, a cease fire was declared to stop the fighting.

May 1941: The Tokyo Convention, defining the new Thai-Cambodian border, ended hostilities between Thailand and colonial French Indo-China.

December 7th 1941: Japan started the war of Greater East Asia by an attack on Pearl Harbour on the island of Oaho in Hawaii.

December 8th 1941: Japan bombed the Philippines and Singapore and landing troops at Kota Bahru in North Malaysia and on the beaches at Prachuap Khiri Khan, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Songkla in the Gulf of Thailand. By sundown on December 8th, a cease-fire was declared between Thailand and Japan after Marshal Pibul's Government accepted the Japanese demand for free passage through Thailand. The Japanese pledged that they would respect the sovereignty and independence of Thailand. Japanese troops occupied Bangkok.

December 9th 1941: American missionaries in Bangkok, fearing for their safety, fled to Northern Thailand.  

December 12th 1941: Japanese forces invaded Burma from Thailand.

December 21st 1941: Thailand and Japan signed an alliance with a secret protocol wherein Japan agreed to help Thailand get back territories lost to Britain, and Thailand undertook to assist Japan in her war against America and Britain.

December 23rd 1941: 360 British, Dutch and Americans were put into internment camps in Bangkok.

January 25th 1942: As a result of the alliance made with Japan, Thailand declared war on America and Britain. The Seri Thai movement began in the U.S.A. and underground resistance began in Thailand. Allied bombings of Bangkok commenced.

February 15th 1942: Allied forces in Singapore surrendered to Japan.

March 8th 1942: Dutch Java surrendered unconditionally to Japan.

March 9th 1942: Rangoon, the capital of Burma, fell to Japan.

March 24th 1942: The first air attack on Chiang Mai was made by the American Volunteer Group, the 'Flying Tigers'.

May 1942: Japan gained undisputed possession of Burma.

June 1942: The first Allied prisoners of war arrived in Thailand and Burma to begin construction of the Thai-Burmese railway.

October 1943: The Thai -Burmese railway was completed and most Allied P.O.W.'s were moved to Kanchanaburi.

December 1943: The first large-scale bombing of Chiang Mai and Lampang occurred.

June 20th 1944: Japanese Prime Minister Tojo and his cabinet were toppled in Japan.

July 1944: The Thai Prime Minister, Luang Pibulsonggram, was ousted by the Thai National Assembly.

December 1944: The last aerial attacks on Chiang Mai and Lampang occurred.

January 1945: There was a smallpox epidemic in Chiang Mai.

May 9th 1945: Germany surrendered and the war in Europe was over.

August 15th 1945: After the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered and the war in Greater East Asia was over.

August 1945: Mr. James Byrnes, the American State Secretary, announced that the Thai declaration of war was null and void as Thailand had been forced to make it against their will. Consequently a peace treaty between Thailand and America was not necessary. 

September 3rd 1945: The first contingent of British soldiers arrived at Don Muang to round up the remaining Japanese military and release Allied P.O.W.s.

From mid-1945 to early 1946: Shortages of medicine, clothing and other basic supplies became most acute in Northern Thailand. The black market in vital supplies sent prices soaring. There were simultaneous epidemics of malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis and scabies.

At the end of 1945: The Thai Government deemed it a necessity to please the Allies, and therefore reverted back to the old name of Siam.

January 1st 1946: The 'Formal Agreement for the termination of the State of War between Siam and Great Britain and India' was signed in Singapore. In this agreement, Thailand was to hand back to Britain territories and property that had belonged to Britain before the war, and pay 'war damages'. Thailand would give one and a half million tons of rice to Britain - free of charge, and pay compensation for properties seized from Britain during the war. However, as the Thai Government did not own rice it could not supply it free to Britain. In a revised agreement of May 1946, Britain agreed to buy rice at £12 a ton. This price increased to £24 a ton by the end of 1946. Even at £24 a ton this price was still below the black market price.

To fully comply with the Formal Agreement, in October 1946 Thailand paid £1.5 million for the part of the Thai-Burmese railway, the 'Death Railway', that was within Thailand and in January 1954 paid £5,224,220 to Britain, Australia and India in full settlement of the outstanding Commonwealth war claims. 

March 1946: The first major relief supplies of medicine, food and clothing reached Northern Thailand.

December 1946: Thailand became a member of the United Nations.

April 6th 1948: Marshal Pibul became Prime Minister again.

May 11th 1949: An announcement was made that Thailand would henceforth be the official name of the country.