A Complete Biography of His Royal Highness Prince Mahidol of Songkla
His Royal Highness Prince Mahidol of Songkla was born on January 1 st, 1892, to Their Majesties King Chulalongkorn and Queen Savang Vadhana. He was brought up in his formative years according to the Royal Thai Tradition and ordained as a Buddhist novice like his brothers before receiving his education at Harrow, a renowned Public School in England. He then proceeded to Germany to continue his studies in accordance with the wishes of his father who was a close friend of Emperor William II. Prince Mahidol first attended the Royal Prussian Military Preparatory College at Potsdam which also offered courses on humanities and sciences in addition to military science. This liberal education background as well as self-study and sedulous visits to museums during that period together helped to form the intellectual and philosophical basis of his attitude and personality.
Prince Mahidol subsequently attended the Imperial Military Academy at Gross Lichterfelde in Berlin for two more years. He then followed the wishes of His Majesty King Vajiravudh by entering the Nurwik Imperial German Naval Academy at Flensbourg in 1911. In that year, Prince Mahidol was commissioned by His Majesty King Vajiravudh as a Lieutenant in the Royal Thai Navy. He was concurrently commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Imperial German Navy. Prince Mahidol completed his naval study but was prevented from joining the Imperial German Navy since he was instructed by His Majesty King Vajiravudh to return to Thailand at the outbreak of the First World War.
After a year’s service in the Royal Thai Navy, Prince Mahidol resigned, with His Majesty King Vajiravudh’s permission, to pursue a civilian career. This was both the decisive turning point in his personal life and a momentous national event signaling his lasting contributions to the advancement of higher education, especially in the fields of basic sciences, public health, medicine, nursing, and medical research.
Prince Mahidol had noted, while serving in the Royal Thai Navy, the serious need for improvement in the standards of medical practitioners and public health in Thailand. In undertaking such mission, Prince Mahidol set in motion a whole range of activities in accordance with his conviction that human resources development at the national level was of utmost importance and his belief that improvement of public health constituted an essential factor in national development. One of his primary tasks was to lay a solid foundation for teaching basic sciences which Prince Mahidol pursued through all necessary measures. These included the provision of a considerable sum of his own money as scholarships for six talented students to study physics, chemistry, and biology in England. Upon their return, these students formed the core of well-qualified teaching staff in basic sciences which the country had hitherto lacked. Once the teaching of basic sciences was well established, the teaching of other fields of applied sciences was upgraded. Here, Prince Mahidol placed special emphasis on medical education, public health, nursing, and medical research. His initiative and effort produced a most remarkable and lasting impact on the improvement of modern medicine and public health in Thailand such that he was subsequently honoured with the title of “Father of Modern Medicine and Public Health of Thailand”.
In implementing his plan for institutional development in these areas, Prince Mahidol decided to study public health and medicine himself. Upon leaving the Royal Thai Navy, he proceeded to the United States and enrolled at Harvard University in 1917. In spite of having to shuttle between Harvard for his study and Thailand for his official duties and work as well as his ill health, Prince Mahidol managed to concentrate on his study. He succeeded and received the Certificate of Public Health (C.P.H.) in 1921, the degree of Doctor of Medicine (cum laude) in 1928 and the honour of Alpha Omega Alpha membership. During the first period of his residence at Harvard, Prince Mahidol also negotiated and concluded, on behalf of the Royal Thai Government, an agreement with the Rockefeller Foundation on assistance for medical and nursing education in Thailand.
During his stay in Thailand after receiving his C.P.H. in 1921, Prince Mahidol was appointed Director-General of the University Department, Ministry of Education. In that capacity, he implemented the assistance from the Rockefeller Foundation. He upgraded the teaching of biology, physics, and chemistry through curricula development, acquisition of up-to-date equipment, and construction of laboratories and classrooms. To meet these and many other expenses in the expansion of the medical school, Prince Mahidol generously supplemented government budget with his own personal fund, and secured donations from members of the Royal Family. In implementing his institutional development plan for the improvement of the teaching of basic sciences and pre-medical education, Prince Mahidol mobilized all available resources, including teaching vertebrate anatomy himself. But it was in his capacity as Chairman of the Committee to establish the Siriraj School of Medicine that Prince Mahidol demonstrated his capability and farsightedness as an educational planner, as well as his efficiency as an institutional builder.
After discharging his official duties and work as an educator, Prince Mahidol went back to Harvard and returned home with his well-earned M.D. (cum laude) in 1928. Back again at Siriraj Medical School, he taught preventive and social medicine to final year medical students. However, he was not permitted to serve an internship because of his pre-eminent royal status as a celestial Prince. Thus, to overcome this obstacle and to enable him to personally help the sick and bereaved, Prince Mahidol decided to leave the establishment he loved and had toiled for, to work as a resident doctor at McCormick Hospital, an American missionary hospital in Chiang Mai. Leaving his family behind in Bangkok, Prince Mahidol stayed with Dr. E.C. Cord, Director of McCormick Hospital, and performed operations alongside Dr. Cord. As ever, Prince Mahidol did much more than was required in attending his patients, taking care of needy patients at all hours of the day and night, and even, according to records, donating his own blood for them.
Finally, Prince Mahidol was able to accomplish, through his determination and effort, an affirmation of the noble principle of dignity and worthiness of everyone as human being, irrespective of social origin, property, birth or other status.
During the last days of his life and still continuing to fulfill his noble and zealous mission, Prince Mahidol took temporary leave to Bangkok in order to attend the funeral of a senior member of the Royal Family. He never returned. He had been suffering from a severe kidney disease, for which he was once hospitalized while at Harvard, and refraining from disclosing to his family that he only had at most a year to live. The nation mourned a great man’s death at a young age of 37 years, 8 months, and 23 days.
The resounding message affirming the dignity and the value of life, so forcefully translated into action by Prince Mahidol, was enunciated in 1948 with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. His teaching of the spirit of brotherhood towards all human beings without discrimination of any kind is well-known. Many of his exhortations and pronouncements given to his medical students have been highly respected for their wisdom and their eternal moral values. For instance:
“I don’t want you to be only a doctor, but I also want you to be a man” “True success is not in the learning, but in its application to the benefit of mankind.”
Prince Mahidol’s humanistic attitude and idea permeated the lives of his consort, Her Royal Highness the Princess Mother, his eldest daughter, Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana Krom Luang Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra, his first son, His Majesty King Ananda Mahidol, and his youngest son, His Majesty the King as well as all members of His Majesty’s family, by motivating each and all of them alike to be selfless, acting on the principle that each of us, without discrimination, has human dignity and worth, ardently devoted to the betterment of health, happiness, and well-being of the sick, the poor, and the deprived. In the words of Professor A.G. Ellis, a former Dean of Siriraj Medical School, Prince Mahidol “was born to make the world a better place.”