Bangkok is a city that never sleeps and is best known for its vibrant nightlife and lip-smacking street food. It is also a city of temples, with bright golden spires sharing the city skyline with towering skyscrapers. Bangkok also has its share of memorials, many of which, like the Victory Monument or Democracy Memorial are prominent landmarks of the city. Apart from prominent memorials the city has its share of unknown memorials dedicated to the oddest of subjects, including one dedicated to a pig. Although unknown even to many of Bangkok’s residents, the city has a small but beautiful memorial dedicated to the fallen Thai soldiers of World War I.
Thailand (then known as Siam) was neutral during the early days of World War I. At the very beginning of the war, Siam had a good relationship with Germany as well as many of the Allied countries. It was only in July 1917 that Siam declared war against the combined German and Austria-Hungary forces. The then King Rama VI (reign 1910-25) decided to send a military force to the war theaters of the Western front. About 1,284 men were selected and consisted of aviation (414) and motor corps (870). The aviation corps comprised pilots and aircraft mechanics. The motor corps consisted of drivers, mechanics, medical and paramedical staff. On 20 June 1918 they were given a grand send-off by the king on the banks of the River Chao Phraya in Bangkok. They reached Marseilles, France on July 30, 1918, just about three months before the end of the war.
A plaque stating the names of 10 dead soldiers
The Siamese Expeditionary Force never got involved in active warfare. Their activities were restricted to backend support. Nineteen members of the Siamese force died, but none of the deaths were caused by enemy fire or other battle-related injuries. Of the 19, two members died in Siam even before the contingent started their expedition. Influenza and accidents were the causes of other deaths. Nine died in France, while eight died in Germany. The Siamese Expeditionary Force returned home in two batches. The aviation corps returned in May 1919, while the motor corps returned in September 1919. With them, they brought back the ashes of their fallen comrades.
On July 22,1921, Siam honoured its fallen soldiers of World War I with a beautiful milk-white memorial. The memorial represents a typical Thai stupa and contains the ashes of the 19 fallen men. It has beautiful floral designs with plaques on all four sides. The plaques are in Thai and are written in beautiful calligraphy. Two of the plaques have the names of the 19 fallen soldiers while the other two elaborates the reason for Siam joining World War I.
A plaque with names of nine dead soldiers
Today, the Memorial of the Siamese Expeditionary Force (also known as the World War I Volunteers Memorial) stands at the heart of Bangkok just north of the oval field of Sanam Luang. Although the memorial is hardly visited, offerings like food packets, soft-drink bottles and flowers can be seen at the memorial. Thousands of people, including Bangkok residents, pass the memorial every day without giving it a second glance. But then, every year on November 11, the day marking the end of World War I, the memorial gets its due honour with the laying of wreaths.
A plaque narrating the reason why Siam joined WWI, with small tributes from the public
The memorial is located next to the National Museum and the Grand Palace is just a stone’s throw away. It is also located on the southern edge of Khao San Road, a favourite haunt for backpackers visiting Bangkok. So, next time in Bangkok, do visit the beautiful memorial as you explore some of the more famed tourist spots in the city.