This extremely rare broadside was printed on the orders of the Royal Court of Siam (Siam would not become Thailand until 1932), in the name of King Vajiravudh (Rama VI), and celebrates the end of World War I, and Siam’s role as one of the victorious Allied powers. The broadside was issued in the English language (after a Thai language broadside) for the benefit of the many Westerners resident in Bangkok, some of whom wielded significant influence upon their home government’s attitudes towards Siam. In this sense, the broadside was a key part of Vajiravudh’s ongoing (and highly successful) nationalist propaganda campaign, which sought to stoke patriotic sentiment at home (to the benefit of this rule), while strengthening Siam’s status abroad.
While the broadside was certainly issued separately, some examples were also included as insets within the November 19, 1918 edition of the Bangkok Times, a newspaper, which since its founding in 1887 had been the main public information vehicle for Westerners in Siam.
Like all official royal documents, the royal vignette of the Chakri Dynasty tops the broadside. Beneath, the text commences: “On the 22nd of July of the present year I invited the Siamese people to unite in an intercessional prayer involving the Holy Buddhist Trinity and the Virtues of the departed Sovereigns of the Royal Chakri Dynasty to grant aid and vouchsafe victory to the Grand Alliance over our enemies.”
The King then gives details with respect to the Allies’ momentous global military achievements during the war, which are framed as “the triumph of Right over Militarism and of Civilization over Barbarism”.
In honour of the victory, the King then extends an invitation to the Siamese people to attend a massive patriotic-religious celebration to be convened at the Royal Plaza on December 2, 1918 (the anniversary of his coronation), where Vajiravudh will be joined by “the Princess of the Royal House, the officials of the Governments, the officers and men of My Army and Navy, and Corps of Wild Tiger Scouts [the King’s special armed corps], [and] there offer up a Thanksgiving Prayer to the Holy Emerald Image of our Lord Buddha… (M.R.) Rama R, Given at the Ambara Palace, Bangkok, on the nineteenth day of November, B.E. 2461 (1918.)”
Historical Context: King Vajiravudh, the Rise of Thai Nationalism & Siam’s Role in World War I
The present broadside marks a key event in the brief, but consequential, reign of King Vajiravudh (Rama VI, 1885 – 1925, reigned 1910-25) of Siam. Vajiravudh was known for his efforts to promote Thai nationalism towards further uniting the country under the rule of the Chakri Dynasty and to augment the global prestige of Siam in an effort to protect its sovereignty.
Vajiravudh succeeded his father, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, reigned 1868 – 1910), who was considered a great ruler, responsible for the profound social and economic modernization of Siam. However, Chulalongkorn, between 1889 and 1909, had been forced to make massive territorial concessions to Britain (in Malaya) and France (in Cambodia), as well as to sign a series of ‘unequal treaties’ that gave Westerners undue legal and economic privileges within Siam. His son found these concessions humiliating and Vajiravudh became almost obsessively determined to prevent further territorial losses and to roll back the unequal treaties.
Vajiravudh continued his father’s modernizing reforms, founding educational institutions and fostering international investment and industrial development. However, the new king had a cool relationship with many of his late father’s key advisors and military leaders. Moreover, many in the Siamese elite resented Vajiravudh’s unprecedented direct professional relationships with commoners. Inspired by the successful 1911 coup in China, several senior army officers and court officials attempted to overthrow Vajiravudh in the Palace Coup of 1912. While this putsch was unsuccessful, it had the effect of causing the young king to change the course of his rule.
The coup motivated Vajiravudh, supported by his loyal courtiers, to mount a very clever and successful nationalistic propaganda campaign that was to last the remainder of his reign. The legitimacy of the Chakri Dynasty (and his personal rule) was to be legitimized by a fusion of traditional Buddhist customs and modern Thai nationalist furvour. This was to be manifested in a regular series of massive patriotic rallies (such as the one advertised on the present broadside), supported by a sophisticated body of propaganda literature, posters and banners (including a new national flag). It was hoped that a united and highly motivated populace would give Siam sufficient strength to resist undue foreign interference in its affairs and to preserve its territorial integrity.
A critical element of Vajiravudh’s design was his bold and controversial decision to lead Siam into World War I. Upon America’s entry into the war, in April 1917, it became clear to all that the Western Allies would eventually win the war. With this in mind, Vajiravudh wisely predicted that Siam’s participation on the Allied side would present “…an excellent opportunity for us to gain equality with other nations.” Indeed, it would raise Siam’s international profile and prestige, and critically earn the gratitude of Britain and France, who would thus be dissuaded from pressuring Siam into making further humiliating concessions. Moreover, a successful war would further stoke national fervour and patriotism.
On July 22, 1917, Siam formally declared war upon Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Her officials immediately seized twelve ships owned by the North German Line (NGL) that were docked in Thai ports, and promptly arrested all enemy nationals resident in the country.
While the active Siamese contribution to the Allied war effort was scarcely significant on a practical level, its political impact was enormous. Siam sent 1,284 volunteers under Major General Phya Pijaijarnrit (subsequently promoted to Lieutenant General and known as Phya Devahastin) to Europe to serve with the forces of Britain and France. Siamese soldiers fought bravely in the trenches, with 19 giving their lives.
Notably, members of the Siamese air corps trained at the French Army Flying Schools at Avord and Istres. Over 95 of these men qualified as pilots, with some continuing their training at the Bomber School at Le Crotoy, the Reconnaissance School at Chapelle-la-Reine, the Gunnery School at Biscarosse, and as part of the Fighter Conversion Courses at Piox. However, it remains a point of debate as to whether the Siamese pilots actually ever took part in active aerial combat, as the war ended only days after their graduation.
The Siamese nurses, however, made history as the only women to serve in the trenches of the Western Front.
After the war, Siamese troops marched as part of the Grand Allied Victory Parade in Paris, while Siam became a signatory of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) and a founder of the League of Nations (1920).
King Vajiravudh’s design succeeded brilliantly, as Siam’s participation in the war had greatly raised her international profile and prestige. Britain, France and America proved grateful, and there were no more Western demands for territorial concessions. Moreover, from 1920 to 1925, the unequal treaties, which gave Westerners extraterritorial rights within Siam, were revoked.
Thus, the present broadside, which celebrates Siam’s role in the WWI victory, was an important propaganda piece, reminding Western agents in Bangkok of the nation’s sacrifice on behalf of the Allied cause.
A Note on Rarity
The present broadside is today extremely rare, like pretty much all such ephemeral works produced in tropical climates. We can locate only a single institutional example, at the National Library of Thailand (Bangkok), while we cannot trace any sales records.
References: Broadside cited in: Walter Francis Vella and Dorothy B. Vella, Chaiyo!: King Vajiravudh and the Development of Thai Nationalism (Honolulu, 1978), p. 298.