Rod Beattie

Born: Gympie, Queensland, Australia. 17 July 1948.

  • Education :- Primary education at Wolvi State School.
  • Secondary education at Gympie State High School.
  • Graduated from Queensland Institute of Technology, 1976 (Civil Engineering Design). Part time.
  • Graduated from Darling Downs Institute of Technology, 1976 (Civil Engineering Construction). By correspondence.
  • Graduated with Diplomea of Gemmology from Gemmological Association of Australia, 1978.
  • Employment :- 10 years working for Queensland Main Roads Department on road design and construction (1969 – 1979).
  • 10 years operating my own gem mining, cutting and wholesale business (1979 – 1989).
  • 3 years working as a consultant on gem projects in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos (1990 – 1994).
  • 18 years as Manager of the Commonwealth War Cemeteries in Thailand (1995 – 2013) working part time.
  • 2½ years as Project Manager of Hellfire Pass Project (1996 – 1998).
  • 2001-3 designed and built my own internationally recognised museum in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.
  • 11 years since furthering my research into prisoners of war of the Japanese.
  • Military Service :- 6 years in Australian Army Reserve (1969 – 76). Three years in infantry and three years in engineers. Rank – Corporal.

In February 1994, I was approached by an Australian former prisoner of war to clear the pathway into Hellfire Pass prior to a visit to the site by the then Australian Prime Minister Mr. Paul Keating. Soon after I was again approached by the same former PoW to erect the plaque commemorating the internment of the ashes of Lt Colonel ‘Weary’ Dunlop at Hellfire Pass on Anzac Day 1994. Having attended my first Anzac Day Dawn Service at Hellfire Pass I quickly appreciated the importance of the site and offered my services to the Australian Thai Chamber of Commerce to voluntarily maintain the short (400 metres) pathway into Hellfire Pass. This had previously been randomly maintained by members of the ATCC or Australian military personnel on exchange visits to Thailand. When funds became available to the ATCC I supervised the construction of a second concrete pathway leading to the northern end of Hellfire Pass.

Having become involved with Hellfire Pass I set out to learn more about the history of the railway by collecting books about the railway. Being self employed and having time at my disposal I then started to explore and map the abandoned railway and locate former PoW campsites. Locating and mapping all the accessible railway in Thailand and some in Burma took four and a half years. Over the years since I have located the majority of PoW campsites in Thailand and some in Burma.

To give visitors a better understanding of the work done in building the railway I, helped only by my wife and the occasional visitor, set out to clear a longer section of the railway northwards from Hellfire Pass. These four and a half kilometers, which took more than a year to clear, now form the walking trail part of the Hellfire Pass memorial.

In 1995 I was appointed manager of the Commonwealth War Cemeteries in Thailand. In this position I met many people searching for information about relatives who worked or died on the railway. To help these people I began a worldwide search for original PoW records of deaths on the railway. I still continue to search archives around the world as time and funds allow only now my search if for PoWs of all nationalities who worked on the railway.

Because many visitors to Kanchanaburi have the mistaken belief that members of their family slaved on the railway when in fact they were taken to other areas of Asia by the Japanese my research into the fate of prisoners of war has spread to all areas of Japanese occupation. These records now have information on more than 100,000 American, Australian, British and Dutch servicemen.

In 1996 I was appointed Project Manager to oversee the construction of the Hellfire Pass Memorial Interpretative Centre and permanent improvements to the previously cleared length of railway. During this time we cleared another four kilometers of abandoned railway northwards from Compressor Cutting but this section was subsequently not maintained by the Australia government and has now reverted back to jungle. The Australian Prime Minister, Mr. John Howard, opened the memorial on 24 April 1998.

In 1999 I began planning and designing a new museum to be located in Kanchanaburi to cater for the very large number of visitors who visited the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery and who were searching for information about a relative who worked and perhaps died on the railway. A second motive was to create a factual museum display to offer to the large number of tourists whose tour did not take them on to Hellfire Pass (approximately 95,000 of the 300,000 annual visitors to the war cemetery went on to Hellfire Pass). Construction of this privately funded museum began in 2001 and it opened in January 2003. A Thai business associate purchased the land specifically for me to build the museum and he and I funded the construction of the building. Myself and three friends then established and funded the company (TBRC Co. Ltd.) to develop the museum galleries and other facilities. The entire design of the museum was done by myself as was the construction of the building (using a Thai builder and his staff) and much of the installation of the museum displays.

At the time of opening limited funding meant that a number of gallery displays had to be deferred until funds became available. In 2005 the Dutch Embassy came forward and offered to fund the completion of several of these displays. This help plus several personal donations has allowed me to complete all of the original design elements of the museum. Because my exploration and research into the railway is ongoing further development of the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre is also ongoing.

An important part of the work that I have done over the years is to take former PoWs or their families back to their areas of work on the railway. Originally this was done voluntarily but has now become an important part of TBRC’s operation. As time allows I also continue to search for particular areas of interest along the abandoned railway and uncover many wartime artifacts and stories.

In January 2010 my work researching the fate of all prisoners of war who worked on the Thailand-Burma Railway was formally recognised by the Dutch by my being honoured by the Dutch Queen. This was by my being appointed a Knight of the Order of Orange Nassau.

In the same year I began a more detailed mapping project of the entire accessible length of railway in Thailand. This involves clearing/walking the entire railway and recording all identifiable features (cuttings, embankment, bridges, etc) complete with GPS locations. This work continues as time permits.

On 27 January 2012 I was presented with the Order of Australia Medal in recognition of the work that I have done for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and assistance to former prisoners of war and their families.

In the Queen’s birthday honour list of 2013 I was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire. At the end of June 2013 I retired after eighteen years as manager of the war cemeteries in Thailand to allow me to commit more time to TBRC, the increasing number of families wishing to make pilgrimages along the railway and to the ongoing research into PoWs.