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Map of the World showing the Triple Entente participants in World War I. Those fighting on the Entente's side (at one point or another) are depicted in green, the Central Powers in orange, and neutral countries in grey.

Siam, now known as Thailand, participated in World War I (also known as the Great War) from its declaration of war against the Central Powers on July 22, 1917.[1] It was done mainly to gain favor from Britain and France, the main powers in Indochina at the time. Siam's token participation in World War I secured it a seat at the Versailles Peace Conference and the League of Nations, and Foreign Minister Devawongse used this opportunity to argue for the amendments of the 19th century treaties and the restoration of full Siamese sovereignty.[2] The United States obliged in 1920, while France and Britain delayed until 1925.


Photograph of the Palace Revolt of 1912 key plotters

Despite the failed Palace Revolt of 1912, the Siamese monarch's popularity among his people continued to plummet mainly for Army discontent for the caning of six soldiers that got into an argument over a woman with a group of the then Crown Prince Vajiravudh's pages (1909) and the establishment of the Wild Tiger Corps (1911).[3] The reduction of Siamese territory, after losing Laos and Cambodia in the period 1889 to 1909, also gave cries of discontent for giving way for British and French concessions.[2]

The Siamese Expeditionary Force with the tricolour flag of Siam in Paris, 1919.

Siamese war flag (obverse)

Siamese war flag (reverse)

The Siamese monarch, Rama VI, saw the opportunity in the Great War to gain both popularity and full sovereignty. So, Siam sent 1,284 volunteer troops under the command of General Phya Pijaijarnrit to serve in the Western Front with the combined Franco-British force. The expeditionary force, which arrived in 1918, included 95 qualified pilots and a medical unit. The Siamese troops were the only Southeast Asians in the European theatre (except for 140,000[4] Vietnamese troops and workers drafted by the French). Amendments favorable for full Siamese sovereignty was provided in response to the small force sent by Siam in the war. Impounded German ships were given also for Siam's merchant marine growth.[2] 19 Siamese soldiers were killed during the war.

Rama VI saw this also as an opportunity to promote nationalism. The flag of the Kingdom of Siam shows five horizontal stripes in the colours red, white, blue, white and red, with the middle blue stripe being twice as wide as each of the other four. The design was adopted on 28 September 1917, according to the royal decree about the flag in that year; the Thai name for the flag is ธงไตรรงค์ (Thong Trairong), meaning tricolour flag. The colours are said to stand for nation-religion-king, an unofficial motto of Thailand,[5] red for the land and people, white for Theravada Buddhism and blue for the monarchy, as having been the auspicious colour of King Rama VI. As the king had declared war on Germany that July, some note the flag now bore the same colours as those of Britain and France.[6]


  1. The Chicago Daily News Almanac and Year Book for 1922. Chicago: Chicago Daily News Co. 1921. p. 280. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "History of Thailand". Retrieved 31 August 2012. 
  3. Greene, Stephen Lyon Wakeman. Absolute Dreams. Thai Government Under Rama VI, 1910-1925. Bangkok: White Lotus, 1999.
  4. Sanderson Beck: Vietnam and the French: South Asia 1800-1950, paperback, 629 pages
  5. "Thailand: A Country Study". Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program, from the Library of Congress. Retrieved 23 July 2011. "Sarit revived the motto "Nation-Religion-King" as a fighting political slogan for his regime, which he characterized as combining the paternalism of the ancient Thai state and the benevolent ideals of Buddhism." 
  6. Duncan Stearn (14–20 February 2003). "A Slice of Thai History: Raising the standard; Thailand’s national flags" (in Pattaya Mail). Retrieved 24 July 2011. "The prevailing – although unofficial – view of the meaning of the five stripes is that red represents the land and the people; the white is for Theravada Buddhism, the state religion and the central blue stripe symbolises the monarchy. It has also been stated that blue was the official colour of King Rama VI. Another account claims the blue was inserted as a show of solidarity following Thailand’s entry into the First World War (in July 1917) as an ally of Britain and France." 

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