The tragic death of a long-time family's friend

Mr. Kiet wattananikorn and Malee, his wife, moved to Ngao the second time in 1940, and settled down there since then. Malee recounted that on the morning of December 8th, 1941, the radio of Thailand announced Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram’s declaration of the Thai government’s consent for the Japanese troops to march through Thailand. After Hartley and Kinder learned about the situation, with the United Kingdom was already at war with Japan, the only choice for them was to escape into British Burma. On the next morning, both of them left Ngao by car for Chiang Rai. After having got permit from Chiang Rai’s Governor, they immediately entered into Burma via Shan State.

When the Greater East Asia War ended in September 1945, Stanley Kinder and Evelyn Guy Stuart Hartley returned from England to Amphoe Ngao with their newlywed wives, Mollie and Merry, in November 1945 and January 1946 respectively. Hartley resumed his work as forest manager for the Anglo-Thai Company and proposed Kiet to be appointed as the assistant manager. Later Guy Hartley and Merry had two children together, Clare and Alan, who were born in Bangkok Nursing Home in 1950 and 1953. This family lived together in the forest manager’s residence at the company’s headquarter in Ngao.

From left, Standing: Kiet and Hartley. Sitting: Mollie, Atkins who was the former ACL's General Manager in Bangkok, and Merry, at the tennis court in Ngao.(Photo courtesy of Alan Hartley)

Residence of Hartley and Merry, and their Children, in Ngao.

Mollie and Merry on the front seat of the lorry, standing was Kinder, with labourers at the back.

Merry Hartley with her daughter, Clare, and son, Alan, at Hartley's residence in Ngao circa 1954

Guy Hartley and Clare, his eldest daughter, at their Ngao residence in 1951. (Photo courtesy of Alan Hartley)

Guy Hartley (extreme right) and colleagues at the Sawankhalok rafting station. (Photo courtesy of Alan Hartley)

Guy Hartley, as the forest manager, was often absent from the Ngao residence as it was necessary for him to travel to the various forestry stations. Ordinarily, he would not take his wife with him on these trips. One of the stations he had to regularly visit was the company's rafting station at Sawankhalok. Curiously, on the trip to Sawankhalok in June 1956, Guy Hartley, in a break from his customary practice, took his wife. This may have been because they were scheduled to soon return to England, and he therefore may have wanted his wife to experience forest life before their departure.

They stayed at the company’s station residence on the bank of the Yom river. The house was a two-storey building. The lower floor was the office and the upper floor was fully-furnished accommodation consisting of a living room and a bedroom. Within the station compound were another two or three buildings as well as a godown to store the various materials and equipment used for construction of the timber rafts. Not too far away from the house and these adjacent buildings was the river bank. This rafting station compound was some distance from the nearest village.

After dinner on the evening of 19 June, Guy Hartley and his wife, Merry, were sitting conversing in the living room on the second floor of the house as usual. The night atmosphere at the station was quiet, broken only by the whispering sound of the water in the Yom river, which was still ten meters below the bank as it was only the beginning of the rainy season. Late at night, the stillness was periodically disturbed by hoo-hoo-hook sounds of owls hooting and alternating with the echo of the village dogs exchanging howls in the distance. Husband and wife conversed until late into the night before going to bed in preparation to face unfinished tasks in the morning.

In the middle of that night, Guy Hartley and his wife were awakened by a strange noise coming from the office on the lower floor. Hartley got up to ascertain the source of the noise, opened the bedroom door, walked through the living room and descended the stairs to the lower floor. Halfway down he could see into the room below and he would have been alarmed when he saw the shadows of three or four people ransacking the office. With concern for his wife, he shouted to her in English to bolt the bedroom door. This panicked the burglars panicking, who would not have understood English, and the loud noise of gun fire followed as several volleys were discharged. Hartley collapsed instantly on the stairs.

Hearing her husband cry with pain, and hearing unfamiliar footsteps running up the stairs, Merry, as well as being extremely worried about her husband, must have been in great fear for her own life. Confused about what to do in such dangerous situation, she ran to hide in the corner of the bedroom, but she was knocked down by the intruders as they pushed their way through the bedroom door.

The gang hurriedly pilfered everything, from the chattels on the table to the contents of the drawers and wardrobe. They took everything they considered to be of value, even her gold-color lipstick, ran downstairs and escaped into the darkness. Although the staff and laborers heard the noise, none had the courage to come out to stop the bandits or follow them. They did not even dare to go out to report the incident to the police that night for fear of the harm that could come their way as the bandits may have been hiding in the tall grass surrounding the station compound.[i]

After the bandits left, Merry shouted to the workers to help carry her husband to the upper floor and administer first aid. However, it was already too late, so she could only wipe the blood stains from his body and gave him a change of clothing before lying him on the bed. That night several questions must have gone through her mind about what had just happened, and what her future, and that of her very young children, would be.

{i] Malee's account of the incident, given to the author later in her life.

The bandit gang was subsequently arrested and the leader, who had been responsible for the murder of E.G.S.Hartley, was sentenced to death. The rest were imprisoned, but it is doubtful if any of them spent many years in jail. On the other hand, Merry Hartley had to return to England on her own to raise Clare and Alan, two orphans who had had their father brutally taken away. This happened at a time when the family was already due to return together.

Hartley’s body was initially buried in Changwat Phitsanulok. Later, in deference to Merry’s wishes and with help from Kiet Wattananikorn, a long-time friend who had worked with Guy Hartley for more than twenty years, Hartley’s body was exhumed and re-interred in the Foreign Cemetery, Chiang Mai, on 7 July 1973.

It was not a luxurious or large memorial, that marked his grave, but a simple pink granite headstone with the inscription 'BELOVED HUSBAND OF MERRY'. Visitors to this grave, reading the simple words on the headstone, may not feel much unless they know the story behind it.

Merry Hartley returned to England, broken hearted, in 1956. She endured painful memories for many years before deciding to marry John Hussey who understood completely the deep loss she had suffered. After the horrific event at Sawankhalok in 1956, which led to her return to England in deep mourning, Merry continued to communicate with Kiet until his death in 1991. Part of a letter shown on this page was from Kiet Wattananikorn to Merry, written one year before his death in Bangkok at the age of eighty-five.[ii]

[ii] Prof. Kittichai Wattananikorn, British Teak Wallahs in Northern Thailand from 1876-1956 (White Lotus Press, 2018)

Chiang Mai cemetery, where Evelyn Guy Hartley was laid to rest.

Part of a letter, dated 25 January 1990, from Kiet Wattananikorn to Merry. (courtesy of Alan Hartley)