Raoul Coutard- Conditions in Vietnam (13/179)
In the end, the troops had arrived. Obviously there was the police, which was made up of Frenchmen. And there were also all the French that were colonists, who had been occupied by the Japanese for quite a while. There were some soldiers, who came out of the camps, who were reappearing, because of an operation that the Japanese had done on the 9th of March 1945. They wiped out the entire French army in one night. They did something absolutely extraordinary. They hosted a cocktail party in all of Indochina, inviting all the leaders, bosses, captains etc. And in the evening, at 9 o’clock, they killed all of those people. Attacked the barracks, which no longer had leaders. Which means that in one night, they completely wiped out the French army. [BC] In what year did this happen? In 45, on the 9th of March 1945. [BC] How many deaths were there? Quite a few, I really don’t remember. Only one regiment managed the get away, the 5th foreign regiment, which was in the north, and who managed to get away and went to China. As well as a few small units. [BC} It was before the war ended. [BC] Before Hiroshima and Nagasaki? That’s right. Which means that there weren’t many soldiers because a certain number of them were still in camps, and since they hadn’t been treated very well, they weren’t really high-spirited. So the French army was taking all those posts up again. And there were the British, and there were also the Japanese who were occupying the barracks. They were stationed in barracks. And it was quite amusing because they had kept their riffles, and they were mounting guard. Everytime a soldier passed by, they made a real effort to salute them. [BC} And all that was before you arrived? I’m talking about my arrival. I’m already there. Yes. That was before my arrival. We arrived afterwards. The Japanese were prisoners, and the British were driving around the streets in cars etc. Generally it was the Ghurkhas with their big thing on the head, or the Sikhs. So in theory we were suppose to get their arms. And the big issue was that we were dealing with colonists. The French civilians we saw were colonists. And to settle problems, they would hit the Vietnamese with 50 centimetre long pieces of bamboo. And the entire French army that was arriving had gone to war against the Germans to liberate France. So they were very critical of the situation. And everyone was saying: – If I was Annamese, because at the time you weren’t Vietnamese. – If I was Annamese, I would be Vietnimh. But it went relatively well. There weren’t too many problems. But I mean, on the whole the French army was quite hostile to the colonial system. So there were constant clashes. And, in particular, I remember one day at the Continental hotel, we had come in for a drink. They threw us out, telling us that there were other cafés, , that we could go for a drink somewhere else. So it happened from time to time. There were times when soldiers had taken seats apart and burnt them. Since the Saigon paper always published things they didn’t like, the soldiers ruined the papers. And one day, something quite amusing happened, there was a sports club in Saigon which was only for whites. And there was a football team. And one day there was a football match against another club. the sports team against the US PTT, the PTT sports union. And in the PTT sports union, they had Annamese players. And complete outrage, an Annamese scoring a goal against the French side. So what did the French goal do? He went up to him and punched him the face. And obviously, all the French soldiers who were in the bleachers, came down to hit the goalkeeper, who ran down the streets. They caught up with him and gave him a thrashing. So obviously, the next day, the papers were all headlining with the scandal of the French soldiers. [BC] How did the military hierarchy react? They tried to come things down, inevitably. And slowly things relatively calmed down. [BC] And how long did you stay in Saigon for? I stayed more than 40 months in Indochina that time.