The General is not amused

Gents I have added this story by a friend of mine on his time in the Far east.
By Roy Hudson
In an article published in Guidlines last October, I reminisced about my visits to Thailand, on duty and on leave between 1945 and 1957, that eventually led to me emigrating in 1959 to Chiang Mai, where I have been living ever since. I mentioned that whilst in Bangkok in 1945 I met Their Royal Highness Prince Chumbhot and Princess Pantip of Nagor Svarga in unusual circumstances that did not amuse the general, but that is was ‘a story for another time.’ Here is what there is to tell. By the way, the name of the country had been changed from Siam to Thailand in 1939, but reverted in Siam in September, 45. It became Thailand again once again in 1947.
I spent 4 years in Burma from 1941-45 on what I like to call government sponsored tour that included some exciting military action involving the might of Japan. The Hiroshima bomb went off in 1945 just as I was returning to India by sea from England. On reaching the depot of the Bengal Sappers and Miners somewhere north of Delhi, I was given a task which appeared to be unexciting in the extreme. My repeated requests for a posting to Burma took effect and within days I was in Rangoon in command of an Indian engineer unit due to be flown into Bangkok the very next day.
Once landed there, I was ordered to find accommodation for my unit, almost 300 strong, on or close to Sri Ayutthaya Road. I found a suitable site near the railway line to house most of my unit. But for my HQ office and for the Officers Mess, I took over two adjacent wooden houses on Sri Ayutthaya road, with some 50 men taking over another house close by, that just happened to exactly opposite Wang Suan Pakkard, the Residence of Their Royal Highnesses Prince Chumbhot and Princess Pantip.
I was kept busy not only completing urgent engineering tasks but in getting to know the officers and other ranks of my unit namely 77 Field Engineering Squadron. The unit had been through a very long and tough time in Burma and had especially distinguished its self at the Battle of Kohima, where three medals had been won for bravery: one Military Cross and two Military Medals. It had taken part in the crossing of the Irrawaddy River, where the opposition had been provided by the 33 Division (General Tanaka), accepted as being the ‘crack Japanese formation in Burma.
Not long after we had all settled in, the Prince and Princess decided to hold what Princess Pantip described to me in a letter written in 1976 as a ‘Ram Wong garden evening party’. There was little if any electricity available in those days so the party would have been lit by kerosene oil lamps. My men, billeted across the road, must have watched the preparations with utmost interest. Small stalls where quickly erected for setting out various kinds of eats. They would have seen a stage for a band. There would be music and dancing. The word ram (say it rum) means dance and wong means circle.
Yes it would be the traditional Thai dance moving around in a circle, taught at school from an early age, but not that difficult to pick up the basics. And no doubt there would be refreshments, specially the local whisky known as Maekong.
My men watching from across the road must have been fascinated by what they saw after years of soldiering and slogging in the jungle. My memory is that two of them English speaking clerks, decided to join the party. But no, there where more.
In Princess Pantip’s letter she writes, ”There where more then two Indian soldiers who where uninvited but welcome guests at our Ram Wong evening garden party, at least five or six. When they left the handed me a 10 baht note” In her letter the Princess relates she was very amused and on meeting General Evans when he was invited to dinner the very next evening, she told him the story, adding that it was the first time in her life she had been on the receiving end of a tip.
Major General Geoffrey Evans, Commander of British Forces in Siam, was a fine soldier and splendid leader of men in battle. He had headed a Brigade in Arrakan (I was there too), and later on a Division which took part in the main operations that defeated the Japanese Army in Burma. I also served under him when he commanded a formation (40 Division) in Hong Kong in 1949. I knew and liked General Evans. But it seems he did not have much of a sense of humour, nor did he appear happy in peace-time situations that called for diplomacy and protocol rather than rifles, guns and tanks.
Regarding my men and the Ram Wong party, Evans was on the phone to my Commanding Officer the first thing next morning. I received Orders to proceed to Suan Pakkad Palace and to apologies for the ‘Disgraceful Behaviour of Major Hudson’s men’.
The visit took place later in the day. In her letter Princess Pantip reminded me that she was even more amused when I turned up in Spic and Span with two of my junior British Officers to make a formal apology. She had not expected one at all and thought it all a Humorous incident. From what I was told, my party of gate crashers had behaved well. They ate a bit of this, tried a bit of that, no doubt sampled the Meakhong and even perhaps had a go at the ram wong.
After we had also been introduced to HRH Prince Chumbhot, the visit closed on a friendly note. The Prince and Princess where informal in many ways, even calling their home the Cabbage Patch Palace, from its Thai name. Prince Chumbhot died in October 1959. Princess Pantip, who at one time had a house in Chiang Mai, died suddenly in May 1987.
I recently paid a nostalgic visit to Wang Suan Pakkad, now a museum, well worth a visit even if only to view the Lacquer pavilion.
Roy Hudson 2008

"Roy Hudson's story has previously appeared in the Bangkok Post,
Bangkok, and also in Guidelines Magazine, Chiang Mai".

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