December 19 is one of several causes of celebration within the Royal Thai Navy throughout the year with observances marking the birth in 1880 of Admiral Prince Abhakara Kiartivongse, Prince of Chumphon, who was proclaimed the “Father of the Navy”. Similarly, the anniversary of his death on May 19, 1923, at the young age of 43, is marked as Abhakara Day. Other RTN holidays include Royal Thai Navy Day each November 20 and Thai Navy Memorial Day on January 17.
Admiral Prince Abhakara Kiartivongse, Prince of Chumphon, (Phra Ong Chao Aphakon Kiattiwong — พระองค์เจ้าอาภากรเกียรติวงศ์) was the 28th child of King Chulalongkorn, born on December 19, 1880, in Bangkok. His familiar other names, Sadej Tia (“Royal Father”) or Doctor Phon or Prince of Chumphon, command deep respect from Thai people from navy officers to rural villagers.
He spent his early years studying naval warfare in England but returned to Siam to serve in the Royal Siamese Navy, contributing significantly to the advancement and modernization of the navy. In 1898, King Chulongkorn (Rama V) established the Royal Thai Naval Academy (โรงเรียนนายเรือ) and officially opened it on November 20, 1906. Originally located on the royal yacht Maha Chakri and some other boats donated by the king, the academy later moved to Wang Derm Palace in Thonburi (in the compound of the present headquarters of the Royal Thai Navy),
In 1922, the Prince of Chumphon saw that Sattahip Bay was a strategic place for the establishment a naval base and offered royal land in Sattahip in order to build naval facilities which included the new home of the naval academy. In honor of his contributions, the Prince was proclaimed “The Father of Royal Thai Navy”. The Royal Prince Admiral went to England to personally negotiate the purchase of the Phra Ruang destroyer, one of the early ships of the Royal Thai Navy and command the ship during its subsequent voyage from England to Thailand. He served at the Minister of the Royal Siamese Navy from October 1922 until his death from influenza on May 19, 1923.
In addition to his career in the navy, the Prince of Chumphon studied medicine. He was particularly interested in the use of herbal medicine in treating his patients. As “Doctor Phon”, he provided medical treatment to people of all classes and races. He was also well recognized in the field of supernatural arts. His reputation on magic was such that he has been regarded as one of the “108 deities in heavens”. Many worshipers proclaim themselves to be his “children” or followers and pray to him for fulfillment of their wishes. The Prince of Chmphon’s mythical status is demonstrated by the existence of numerous published books with such titles as The Miracles of Prince Jumborn and Sadej Tia the Magician.
There are well over 200 shrines and statues of the Prince of Chumphon around the country. Members of the Thai Navy, fishermen and other Thai citizens make offerings at his statue and pray. One of these is located in front of Rajamankla University of Technology Phra Nakorn on Phitsanulok Road in Bangkok. This is the site of the former Nang Lern Palace where the prince resided. Statues of Sadej Tia can also be found in Chumphon Province and in Pattaya at the naval station close to the viewpoint on Pratumnak Hill. Another famous statue of the prince is located at another viewpoint, this time in Phuket. The Phuket statue of the prince is near the lighthouse at Laem Promthep on the southern tip of the island. One popular way to make an offering is for Thai people to bring sets of nine red roses and nine incense sticks in the belief that Sadej Tia will listen to prayers and help fulfill wishes.
Scott #2261 was released on November 20, 2006, to commemorate the centenary of the Royal Naval Academy’s opening to cadets. The 3-baht stamp is perforated 14½x14 and printed on granite paper. The academy was moved to its current location in Samut Prakan in 1952 and continues train officers for the Royal Thai Navy, providing undergraduate programs in engineering and science, combined with naval professional training. Cadets can major in electrical engineering, marine engineering, hydrographic engineering, and management science and are trained as engineers, navigators, and marines. Cadets graduate with a bachelor’s degree in engineering or science and are commissioned in the Royal Thai Navy with the rank of ensign (sub-lieutenant). Together with graduates of the other armed forces and police academies, they receive their swords from the king personally or the king’s representative.
Those who want to enter the academy first have to pass the entrance exam, after which they join a three-year preparatory program at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School where they study together with army, air force, and police cadets. On successful completion, they enter the Royal Thai Naval Academy. After graduation, they attend a further one-year advanced course at Sattahip that leads to a graduate diploma in naval science. On completion of this course, they are ready to work as officers in the Royal Thai Navy.
The academy also trains police cadets destined to work at the marine police, while every year a few top graduates of the Naval Rating School for non-commissioned officers enter the academy directly after a separate entrance exam. Selected first-year cadets of the RTNA are awarded scholarships to study at naval academies abroad. On their return to Thailand, they start working as officers in the Royal Thai Navy straightaway.