Siam in World War I | Wikipedia audio article


The Kingdom of Siam, now known as Thailand,
is possibly one of the least well-known participants in World War I. Siam fought against the Central
Powers by an active contribution, whatever the actual military value, to one of the most
gruelling and critical campaigns of the war. It sent an Expeditionary Force dispatched
to France, to serve on the Western Front. Siam entered the war in July 1917 by declaring
war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. Following acclimatisation, both military and
meteorological, and specialist training, the Siamese contingent began operations on the
Western Front in the middle of September 1918. The war ended soon afterwards, but following
the Armistice of 11 November 1918, Siamese troops also contributed to the initial occupation
of Rhineland, when they took over the town of Neustadt an der Haardt.==Background==The First World War had no direct impact on
Siam because of the great distance not only from Europe but also from Germany’s colonial
territories in the Pacific and on the China Coast. However, the war did provide an opportunity
for King Rama VI to strengthen his country’s position in the international arena and to
strengthen the position of the monarchy within the Siamese state. Though it had been successful in maintaining
its independence from the European colonial powers, Siam had been forced to cede Laos,
Cambodia and its own four southernmost provinces, at the height of imperialism between 1889
and 1909, and it had also had to grant extraterritorial rights to foreign citizens. Rama VI hoped to revise the unequal treaties
by taking the side of the Allied Powers. He also used the war as a means to promote
the concept of a Siamese nation and to confirm his supremacy as the head of the nation, a
status that had been challenged by elements of the military in the Palace Revolt of 1912.==War==On 22 July 1917, Siam declared war on Germany
and Austria-Hungary. Twelve German vessels docked in Siamese ports
were immediately seized. The crews and other Central Power nationals
were detained and sent to India to join their fellow citizens in British India’s existing
civilian internment camps. Siam was the sole country in Southeast Asia
to maintain full independence from the great empires during the colonial era. It was the only state in the region to enter
the conflict entirely of its own free will, as an equal of the European powers rather
than as part of their imperial contingents. As a clear symbol of the new two-track strategy
of active association with the world powers and of renewal and restructuring within the
nation, the King authorised a re-design of the national flag. The new flag had an extra colour, blue, and
was arranged in stripes. It was said to represent the three elements
of the nation: creed, crown and community. Noticeably, representation of the military
was subsumed between him and the people. The new colours of blue, white and red, also
sat comfortably, almost cerainly deliberately, along the flags of Serbia, Russia, France,
Great Britain and the United States. The new flag appeared on the 28 September
1917. Initially, two variants were common: the current
minimalist five horizontal bands and a variant maintaining the continuity and prestige of
the old flag, with the traditional white elephant symbol on a red disc, from the old flag, superimposed
over the new stripes, a variant still the flag of the Royal Thai Navy. When the Siamese Expeditionary Force marched
in the 1919 victory parade, it was behind the hybrid flag. In September 1917, a volunteer expeditionary
force was assembled, consisting of medical, motor transport and aviation detachments. By early 1918, 1,284 men were selected from
thousands of volunteers. The force, commanded by Major-General Phraya
Bhijai Janriddhi, was destined to be sent to France. On 30 July 1918, the Siamese landed in Marseilles. Some 370 pilots and groundcrew were sent to
air schools in Istres, Le Crotoy, La Chapelle-la-Reine, Biscarosse and Piox for retraining, as the
pilots were deemed incapable of withstanding high altitude air combat.On 1 August, with
French and British divisions advancing to the German positions on the Marne, the French
selected some men from the Siamese detachment to form the first Siamese labour volunteer
detachment. They received brief training and arrived at
the front on 4 August 1918 during the Second Battle of the Marne. Phya Bhijai Janriddhi served as observer during
the battle. This was the first Siamese contingent to see
the frontline trenches. This was followed by the ground forces actively
proceeding to the fighting front in mid September.In the same month the medical and motor transport
detachments were sent to the front lines and took part in the 1918 Champagne and Meuse-Argonne
Offensives. Siamese airmen had not finished training when
the time the Armistice of 11 November 1918 was signed. The ground forces, on the other hand, had
distinguished themselves under fire and were awarded the Croix de Guerre and Order of Rama
decorations. The ground forces participated in the occupation
of Neustadt an der Haardt in the Rhineland region of Germany and also took part in the
1919 Paris Victory Parade.==Aftermath==At the end of the war, Siam participated in
the Versailles Peace Conference and became a founding member of the League of Nations. By 1925, the United States, the United Kingdom
and France had abandoned their extraterritorial rights. Siam was also rewarded with confiscated German
merchant ships.Siamese casualties during the war amounted to 19 dead. Two soldiers died before their departure to
France, and the remainder perished from accidents or disease. The World War Volunteers Memorial honoring
the Siamese soldiers who died in the conflict opened on 22 July 1921, in Sanam Luang, central
Bangkok. The last surviving member of the Siamese Expeditionary
Corps, Yod Sangrungruang, died on 9 October 2003.==See also==
Siamese Expeditionary Forces

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