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Royal Refletions: the 61st year of the reign of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX

June the 9th marks the 61st year of the reign of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, Thailand’s beloved sovereign, and the longest reigning monarch in the world. Hopefully, his majesty will have enjoyed a quiet day surrounded by his family, as opposed to the hectic schedule that he faced during the past twelve month to celebrate his 60th Jubilee; a year which saw the king at all manner of functions attended by not only Thai nobility, but by heads of state from around the world.

Perhaps His Majesty will have spent the day in quiet reflection, and as men of advanced years often do, will have reflected upon the happy days of his childhood and the years he enjoyed with his elder brother, Prince Ananda Mahidol.

During his teenage years, the father H.R.S Prince Mahidol of Songkhla left for Germany to further his studies according to the wishes of his father, King Chulalonglorn, Rama V. He attended at the Royal Prussian Military Preparatory College, the Imperial Military Academy, and Murwik Imperial German Naval Academy respectively. After serving briefly in the Imperial German Navy, he came back to serve at the Royal Siam Navy for 5 years. Towards the end of his Royal Navy service, Chief of Royal Medical College invited Prince Mahidol on a canal tour, where he made a stopover at the medical school situated near a river. The Prince took the tour with a heavy heart and compassion, seeing the dirty paediatric units with wooden floors, when pieces of wood were put together with wide spaces between them for the patients to sleep on. This was a major turning point in Prince Mahidol’s life and was a signal of his contributions to the advancement of higher education of basic sciences, public health, medicine, nursing and medical research.

Prince Mahidol at first went to further his medical studies at Edinburgh University in Scotland, but his health could not get along with the weather there. He then relocated to America and studied at Harward University. Prince Mahidol spent his 3 years to get certificates in Pre-Medical Science and Public Health respectively. This was said to be the place when he first met his future wife. Prince Mahidol later visited his home country and married Miss Sangvalya Talabhat in a Royal Wedding Ceremony, after a four - year courtship and deep love. About 3 years in Bangkok he served the Ministry of Education as Director-General of University as well as the Committee Chairman of Siriraj School of Medicine. The couple went to Europe for the treatment of his chronic kidney ailment and the doctor told him that he would live only two more years. However, Prince Mahidol was determined to complete his Doctor of Medicine Degree.

The young princes were inseparable, and while Prince Ananda was the elder by some two years, the boys seemed more like twins, according to their sister, Princess Galyani Vadhana. The children of Prince Mahidol of Songkhla and Mhom Sangvalya, the Princess Mother, were much- travelled youngsters; Princess Galyani being born in London, while her younger brothers Prince Ananda and Prince Bhumibol were later born in Heidelberg, Germany, and Cambridge, Massachusetts respectively.

When Prince Bhumibol was born, the family was living in a modest apartment at 329 Longwood Avenue in Boston. Prince Mahidol studied for a public health degree at Harvard University, while his wife pursued a degree in nursing and economics at Simmons College. Despite their enormous wealth the young couple lived as many other young professionals at that time in Boston; Prince Mahidol studying at the Harvard Medical School and working as an intern at a Boston hospital, his wife studying for her degree and looking after the children.

The family returned to Bangkok when Prince Bhumibol was just 1 year old. Prince Mahidol had long dreamed of working as a doctor at the Siriraj Hospital, but was disappointed to discover that his royal position forbade his realizing this dream. Determined not to waste his hard won education, Prince Mahidol left the family in Bangkok and came north in 1926 to work as a resident at Chiang Mai’s McCormick Hospital for only 24 days. Suffering from a severe kidney disease, the Prince returned to Bangkok where he tragically died in a few short months.

The Princess Mother and Princess Galyani were devastated, although the princes were too young to understand what had happened to their father. All three were sent to schools in Bangkok, but with political turmoil threatening it was decided that the family would move to Switzerland where the children could continue with their education in safety.

The Mahidols moved into a small flat in Lausanne and the children were enrolled in primary school. Their childhood years were no different from their peers, but while Princess Galyani made new friends, her brothers were inseparable and preferred the company of one another to their new school chums. The normality of their childhood, however, was to be dramatically interrupted when on March 2, 1934, King Rama VII abdicated while in London after the bloodless coup of 1932, and the parliament in Bangkok invited Prince Ananda, at the tender age of nine years old to take the throne in line with the Law of Succession.

Prince Ananda became King Rama VIII, but owing to his youth, parliament appointed Prince Anuwat Jaturon, Prince Arthit Thip-apa and Jao Praya Yommaraj (Pun Sukhum) as his regents, and the child was allowed to stay in Switzerland to continue his studies.

King Ananda and Prince Bhumibol then attended a private school in Lausanne where they studied foreign languages, along with carpentry and gardening. At home they studied the Thai language, their country’s history, and Buddhism.

The Princess Mother went to great lengths to ensure that both boys were treated as normal, everyday children, with no hint of their regal pedigree. They ran errands for their mother, earned pocket money by picking fruit in a nearby orchard, learned to ski together, and formed a two-member private club— “Club Patapoum”, the headquarters of which was a broom cupboard in Ananda’s bedroom.

Prince Bhumibol displayed an uncanny skill in mechanics at a tender age, repairing his nanny’s sewing machine and making his own radio at the age of ten.

Four years after his accession to the throne, 13 year old King Rama VIII and his family returned to Bangkok for a brief stay, much to the delight of his then 18 million subjects.

The family returned to Switzerland after just 59 days and moved from their modest apartment to a villa on the outskirts of Lausanne -- Villa Vadhana. It was here that the brothers discovered their love of music, and after making their own instruments from basic materials, King Ananda bought a second hand saxophone for 300 francs. When an instructor showed up at the family home, however, King Ananda shoved Prince Bhumibol into the room to take his place for the lesson. King Ananda then bought a clarinet, and during the ensuing six months the royal brothers and their instructor formed a trio.

In the 1940s when jazz crossed the ocean from the United States to Europe, King Ananda became a firm fan of Louis Armstrong, while his younger brother was a Duke Ellington and Count Basie follower. Both young men became gifted musicians, although it would be Prince Bhumibol who would later blossom into an accomplished musician and composer of his beloved jazz music.

At the close of the Second World War, the family made its second visit to Thailand, with King Ananda aged 20 and Prince Bhumibol just 18 years old. During the next six months the brothers carried out their royal duties as they toured the entire central region, bringing hundreds of thousands of devoted subjects out onto the streets wherever they went.

Both young men were adored by the people of Siam for their unpretentious attitude and caring demeanor, but the people’s joy was to be short lived with tragic death of young King Ananda on the morning of June 9th 1946. The tragedy propelled the 18 year old Prince Bhumibol to the position of King Rama IX.

Just two and half months after the death of his elder brother, King Bhumibol Adulyadej returned to Switzerland to continue his studies.

Looking back over his 61 year reign, His Majesty King Bhumibol can be justly proud that he retained those admirable qualities throughout. The monarch has shown his love for his people in so many ways, none more so than the myriad of Royal Projects undertaken down the years that have helped to inspire, educate and benefit the Thai people in subjects as diverse as health and welfare, and agriculture. What may not be generally known is that in most cases, before each project gets the go ahead, the king personally studies and tests each theory until a successful outcome is reached. Only then does he pass on his findings to the relevant body for a project to go into full scale operation.

His Majesty has also created many scholarships to further the education of Thai students, and on April 3rd 1959, The Ananda Mahidol Scholarship Foundation was established, again with the use of His Majesty’s private funds. The name was chosen in memory of the King’s beloved brother, King Rama VIII.

Originally, the scholarships were awarded to students of medicine, as both His Majesty’s father and brother intended to promote this field throughout the country. In later years, however, the original programme was extended to cover eight fields: medicine, science, dentistry, agriculture, law, veterinary science, art and engineering.

The foundation appoints eight screening panels to select students from a pool of university graduates, particularly those who have demonstrated outstanding academic performance. The scholarships enable recipients to study overseas on the condition that they return and work for the benefit of the nation.

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