Monthly Archives: July 2013

Germans in the First Indochina War

The First Indochina War (1946-54) was a struggle between the Viet Minh and the French for control of the country. It followed the defeat of Japan in 1945 and the power struggle following their withdrawal from Vietnam. The Viet Minh, led by Ho Chi Minh, seized the opportunity to declare Vietnamese independence on September 2nd 1945. By late 1946 the French had 50,000 troops in Vietnam and had regained control of Saigon. During this conflict, the French Foreign Legion saw its numbers swell due to the incorporation of Second World War veterans who couldn’t adapt to civilian life, as well as German prisoners of war. Even so, although the Foreign Legion distinguished itself, it also took a heavy toll during the war: constantly being deployed in operations, it even reached the point that whole units were annihilated in combat, in what was a traditional Foreign Legion battlefield. Units of the legion were also involved in the defence of Dien Bien Phu and lost a large number of men in the battle. Some Germans deserted, others defected to the Viet Minh. Some stayed in Vietnam beyond the war and started families.
The story of Germans in the French Foreign Legion (Légion étrangère) is being explored on the website More Majorum . It is entirely in German language, but contains a huge collection of photographs, copies of documents and pictures of uniforms and paraphernalia.

German former soldier in the French Foreign Legion with his family in Vietnam. Source:

German former soldier in the French Foreign Legion with his family in Vietnam. Source:

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New books from River Books

Some exciting new titles are available from River Books, Bangkok, including ‘Thai magic tattoos’, ‘Backstage Mandalay’, ‘Lacquerware journeys’, ‘Siamese coins’, ‘Temples of Cambodia’, ‘Sacred sites of Burma’, and many more.
To browse their catalogue, visit .
A selection of books is also available as e-books.

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“Auguste Pavie, the barefoot explorer” – Online exhibition and research

Auguste Pavie (1847—1925) was the French explorer and diplomat, who is best known for his explorations of the Upper Mekong Valley and for playing a major role in bringing the kingdoms of Laos under French control.

Pavie went to Cochinchina (now part of southern Vietnam) as a sergeant in the marines in 1869 and subsequently worked in the Post and Telegraphic Department, directing construction of telegraph lines between Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, and Bangkok in 1879 and another between Phnom Penh and Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in 1882. While working on the telegraph lines, he travelled throughout Siam, Cambodia, and Vietnam and gained an intimate knowledge of each country’s customs and languages. The French government hoped to gain control of the Lao states of the Mekong River Valley and accredited Pavie to the Siamese government as vice consul in Luang Prabang in 1886. During the next five years he travelled throughout northern Laos, winning for France the friendship of local rulers and chiefs and frustrating Siamese attempts to bring the region under control, which was beset by bands of Chinese freebooters (Ho or Haw). From 1891 to 1893 Pavie served as consul general in Bangkok and helped bring about the Franco-Siamese Conflict of 1893, subsequently resulting in all Lao states east of the Mekong River coming under French protectorate.

Before returning to France, Pavie conducted an expedition, defining Laos’ borders with China, and with Upper Burma, which the British had annexed in 1886. Pavie’s works include “Indochine 1879–1895” (Paris, 1898–1919) and “À la conquête des coeurs” (1921).

An amazing online exhibition and collection of researches by the Archives nationales d’outre-mer in Aix-en-Provence is dedicated to the life and work of Auguste Pavie.

French colonial building in Vientiane

French colonial building in Vientiane

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Filed under Laos, Photo Gallery, Research project