THE KING OF THE BOY SCOUTS
After over 50 years of close involvement in Thailand, including two years as a resident in the late sixties, much of the history and culture of Thailand becomes imbedded in your soul. From time to time, I have considered living there again but it is difficult to abandon my Texas roots. The first Thai offshore oil and gas exploration concession that I and a close Thai friend acquired thirty years ago, we put into a company named Thaitex. That name pretty much covered our roots on both sides as my Thai associate had lived in Texas more than he had in Thailand. Therefore, over this span of time, I have always been curious about the Thai Chakri Dynasty and the monarchs. Perhaps the most widely known historical Thai king is Rama V, or King Chulalongkorn, who ruled from 1873 to 1910. Rama V made great strides in bringing Siam, or Thailand as it is known today, into the modern world, even to the extent of growing a mustache which was common in the Western world at that time.
As I pass vintage Thai king photographs at The Siam Hotel , our home in Bangkok, I am familiar with Rama V and can recognize all the Thai kings of that dynasty. However, I was told that Rama VI was known for having founded the Boy Scouts of Thailand. Finally, as a former Eagle Scout, I decided to do some research on Rama VI, son of Chulalongkorn and learned his reign was far more significant than I had ever been told. His image shown here was colored to highlight his features and medals. By the way, the Thai people like medals, as most people do, with the highest medal that can be awarded to a commoner being the Order of the White Elephant. We have one on display at The Elephant Story that we obtained from an unnamed source.
The future King Rama VI was educated in Britain at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst and was commissioned as a captain in the Durham Light Infantry. He studied law and history at Christ Church, Oxford. The British have always courted future leaders of countries to inculcate the British views of life by providing educational scholarships to them. He attended the coronation of King Edward VII in August 1902. Crown Prince Vajiravudh returned to Siam in 1903 after spending considerable time in the USA and Japan on the way back. His father, Chulalongkorn, died in 1910 and he succeeded his father as King of Siam. In 1911, a formal coronation was held with visiting royals from Europe and Japan as guests, which was a first for Siam, with festivities that lasted 13 days.
Shortly after that event, a group of military officers, shown here, plotted a coup to overthrow the new king. The coup was suppressed and the officers received severe prison sentences which were subsequently rescinded by Rama VI as he said the officers were acting on what they believed to be the best interests of their country. The coup attempt was a harbinger of the future as the Thai military have generated a long history of coups. The king did create his own King’s Guard to protect him. I happen to know one of the generals who says “The duty is light and the food is fabulous” as evidenced by his expanding torso.
Rama VI oversaw major construction projects to create an infrastructure for his country which included Don Mueang Airport, the Thai railway system, the center of the Thai railway system at Hua Lamphong station, the Rama VI bridge over the Chao Phraya River, Chulalongkorn University and Chulalongkorn Hospital. He shared the agricultural interests of his father in seeking improved varieties of Thai rice which remains the mainstay of the Thai diet. In fact, the generic Thai word for food is “rice” and everything else is what you have with it meaning “with rice.”
On 22 July 1917, Vajiravudh declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary thereby aligning Siam with the Allied Powers. The Siamese Expeditionary Force are shown at The Arc de Triomphe in Paris flying their new tricolor banner which replaced the red flag with the white elephant. We, at The Elephant Story , are partial to the white elephant on a solid red background flag which we have on display in the store. Siam’s participation in the First World War led to the formation of the Royal Thai Air Force and the airborne postal service.
Rama VI was one of Thailand’s most renowned artists and authors being particularly well-versed in Sanskrit and Hindu literature, most notably the Ramayana. He was influenced by Rama, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu and hero of the Ramayana epic, to the extent that he promoted the use of “Rama” to designate the sequence of all Thai kings of the Bangkok era.
The Anglo-Irish political scientist and historian, Benedict Anderson, speculated that the king was homosexual. Anderson was the first modern scholar to break the taboo and write about the personal preferences of Rama VI. In reality, Thailand has always been the most open society on anyone’s outlook on life. However, the military may have suppressed Rama VI’s accomplishments to ignore history and promote their macho attitude. Perhaps creation of the Boy Scouts as a high-lighted Rama VI accomplishment was a double entendre created by the military. In the final analysis, Rama VI should be recognized as having made great strides in the creation of a modern democracy in his country.
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