Angkor resurgent

January 1915 Phnom Penh

Sisowath Pinnoret kneeled before King Sisowath with his head bowed, waiting for the King to speak. His uncle’s deep voice began.

Prince Sisowath five hundred years ago our ancestors ruled a great empire from Cambodia that included Siam, Vietnam, Champa and Laos. We became weaker as the Vietnamese and the Siamese became stronger losing our territory to the Siamese and the Vietnamese. My elder brother King Norodom turned to France and became a protectorate of the French to ensure that our civilisation would survive. Although it grates me to have another power over us, we have had territory returned to Cambodia from the Siamese - a feat we could not have accomplished by ourselves. ‘

‘When you travel to France to fight the German, remember that you represent not only yourself, but your country and your family. As my nephew you are next in the line of succession after your father to become King and your experiences will help to shape your future reign. However before you go, I have something for you. ‘

The King turned around and held a Dao in his hands. Looking directly at Prince Sisowath he spoke, ‘You are the first member of the royal family to go to war since we were a free country, take this with you and slay our enemies.’

A commission

June 1916, Verdun

Sous Lieutenant Sisowath moved his raiding party slowly forward across a shell marked no man’s land. The night is still as they close on the German trench, the barbed wire is raised to allow his men to roll into the trench. The Company command bunker is quickly located from the directions provided by a German prisoner from a previous raid. Sergent Chef Pelous establishes a blocking force on either side of the Company command post, as Lieutenant Sisowath and his batman Chasseur Paul Lacroix commence their search.

Paul opens the door finding a German officer asleep in a bunk bed in the corner, with his adjutant sitting with his back turned to the door, his attention focused on the Divisional Map next to the field telephone. He does not react as a strong hand covers his mouth and as the dark blade slashes across his throat. Captain Webber is roughly woken as a gag is applied to his mouth, before a pistol butt renders him unconscious. Sous Lieutenant Sisowath gently folds the map and places the War Diary within his jacket as Paul drags Captain Webber outside. Their mission accomplished the raiding party departs the trench to return to their lines.

Suddenly a flare bursts into the night sky illuminating him and his men. The party begins running towards their lines as rifle fire begins to cascade from the German trenches. Out of his periphery he sees his batman beside him racing towards the safety of their lines, and with a sickening thud he sees Paul fall into the mud. Dropping to the ground he grabs the top of his tunic and slowly drags him towards the safety of his own lines.

Upon reaching the safety of his own lines with Paul in tow, he reports to his Company Commander on the documentation and the prisoner seized during the raid. The papers indicate an offensive by six divisions centred on the Thiaumont fortification within a week. Two days later leading a second raid, Sous Lieutenant Sisowath, is hit by shell fragments from German artillery and sent to a field hospital to convalesce.
A Cambodian prince goes off to fight in the first world war, in the process learns western tactics. He returns home and changes the course of history in South-East Asia. Sounds cool, keep going.
A flicker

Phnom Penh, July 1916

A deputation of five peasants out of the ten thousand peasants protesting the excessive taxation rates within the Kingdom wait quietly outside of the Royal Palace to see the King. A courtier emerges from the Palace to invite them into the throne hall. Prostrating themselves before King Sisowath they outline their complaints of excessive taxation and discrimination experienced by the native Khmer at the hands of the Vietnamese administrators used by the French. King Sisowath sits quietly as they make their appeal, agrees that he will discuss these issues and invites them to leave.

The Resident General Thierry Dusatoir stands in his office at the Commissariat looking at the Royal Palace with a feeling of disgust at the throng of protesting peasants in his sight. His previous belief that the Khmer were too docile to contemplate any action has been overturned in a single day. King Sisowath enters his office and after the exchange of pleasantries begins to talk:

‘Today our subjects protested over their excessive taxation rate and the use of Vietnamese administrators to allow continued protection by France. Can you reduce either?’

‘Your highness, I am limited to what I can do by the actions of the Resident Superior in Ha Noi. I am sure that you understand particularly in regard to reducing government revenue.’

‘Excellency, today the Khmer people recognised their power – however they did so within our legal institutions. Therefore if we wish to maintain their acquiescence a concession must be achieved. This will strengthen both of our positions and allow a dampening of any feeling.’

‘What do you propose?’

‘That over the next ten years 60% of the administration that the Vietnamese currently perform will be done by the Khmer. In exchange I will send the peasants home, and outline the benefits that your administration provides our people.’

‘That is a steep price, but over reasonable time frame for its implementation. My office will draft the proposal and will provide you with a copy for you to proclaim.’
The Nivelle Offensive

April 1917, Chemain des Dames

A hushed awe fell over the auditorium as General Nivelle rose to outline the planned Spring Offensive of 1917. During his two month recovery in hospital he was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his actions at Verdun by General Petian and had been posted to General Nivelle’s headquarters as a staff officer. His concentration returned to the present as General Nivelle began to speak.

Gentlemen the Chemain des Dames ridge is the goal for the Nivelle offensive, which will commence on 16 April. We will utilise nineteen divisions under the command of Generals Mazel and Magnin over an eighty kilometre front from Soissons to Reims. Our British colleague will attack at Arras a week prior to our offensive, thereby denuding the Bosche reinforcements for our attack. Although the heights are a formidable defensive position the combination of our creeping barrage and the use of a concentrated number of tanks will be decisive. If the plan proceeds according to the timetable we will have severely ruptured the enemy lines by the forty eight hour mark, which we will exploit to end the war.

Captain Sisowath started to think of his concerns regarding this upcoming offensive as he slowly filed out of the auditorium, following the detailed presentations by General Mazel and Magnin. Overall insufficient respect had been paid to the natural strength of the German position, the area had underground quarries that could serve as deep bunkers for defending troops. The delay in executing the plan, would have telegraphed the French interest in the area if German intelligence was as effective as believed. These units had also had insufficient training allocated for these ‘combined arms’ operations, particularly refining the ‘creeping barrage’ technique.

A dark day

16 April 1917, Chemain des Dames

The field headquarters was in a sombre mood as the casualties from the first day of the offensive were tallied against the gains made. Captain Sisowath eyes glazed over as he imagined each one of the estimated 40,000 casualties from both the Fifth and Sixth armies. Reports indicated that due to the delay in the offensive, the Germans had reinforced their fortifications with on average a machine gun every ten metres. Combined with a wllful ignorance of the difficulty in crossing the Aisne river and assaulting a commanding fortified ridge line while under fire, had led to this outcome.

Sighing he compared this offensive with the Canadian Corps at Vimy Ridge, having occupied their objective by 13:00 with minimal losses – due to a high level of training resulting in the effective employment of a ‘creeping barrage.’ Clear objectives down to the platoon level, so in the event that the platoon commander and sergeant were killed the subordinates would continue with their mission. Now with the morale of the French soldiers already low, what affect would this day have?

Opening his eyes he returned to organising the logistical and personal resupply of the Fifth army, perhaps something positive may emerge from this debacle.
Someone in the General Staff of the French Army in WW1 actually who learns from mistakes. Now all he needs someone willing to listen to a junior officer.
Battle of the Lys

April 29 1918, Rodeberg Belgium


Commandant Sisowath sat down exhausted in his shell scrape as the light drizzle fell from the overcast sky. His soldiers were still deepening their shell scrapes and linking their positions with communication trenches. Wiping the moisture from his face he looked at Mount Kemmel, a peak that until four days ago had held a French division – and had fallen to three German divisions. Nearby the Scherpenberg peak remained in French control, but that could change at any moment. It seemed pointless that the division commander had placed his Company on an important position to act as a standing patrol, when the Germans had divisions to send.

His force was arrayed around the peak of the hill with his three platoons covering a side of the mountain each. Because of his lack of numbers each platoon had deployed two sections forward with a third in reserve providing the depth to the position and a counterattacking force. Each forward section held a heavy machine gun that had been sighted to provide enfilade fire and to mutually support the other positions. With his trip flares set, the waiting would commence for the inevitable attack.
A long night

April 29 -30 1918, Belgium

As night fell he heard the heavy whistling sound of artillery shells arcing towards his position. He closed his eyes and clumsily tightened the adjustments fitting his gas mask to his face. The bombardment stopped as soon it started, and muzzle flashes became visible from the German attack.
1 Platoon seemed to be the focal point of the attack, but their platoon commander Sous Lieutenant Vigot was directing their defence admirably.

It was at this point that a runner from 2 platoon found him and informed him that Stormtroopers had infiltrated the gap between 1 and 2 platoon attacking 2 platoon’s flank and overrunning their first weapons pit. Their platoon commander had been killed in the initial attack, so Commandant Sisowath took the spare section from 3 platoon combined it with the spare section from 2 platoon and launched an immediate attack. The Germans were forced out of the weapons pit and I left the 2nd platoon under the control of Sergeant Chef Pelous.

After reconnoitring the position following the first attack, Prince Sisowath realised that he had suffered several casualties throughout the company. Consequently he broke up the 3rd platoon’s third section as reinforcements for the front weapons pits and kept 1 platoon’s section as my counterattacking force at my Company headquarters. A runner was sent to inform headquarters of the attack by enemy forces and to request reinforcements as soon as possible.

At 3:00am the Germans attacked the forward positions of 1 and 2 platoon again, engulfing both forward positions in heavy hand to hand fighting. Deciding that it was the appropriate time to commit his meagre reserve, he led them into the forward trenches and into a brutal confrontation. As the sun began to illuminate their position, the Germans massed for one final attack. A feeling of acceptance towards death hung in the air as we prepared for the final assault. It was at this moment that the German soldiers started to receive accurate fire from their flanks as our reinforcements arrived. A cheer emanated from the men, they had survived the night, they had held.

Although the attack on Rodeberg was defeated it was a diversionary attack for the successful German assault on Mount Scherpen. Notwithstanding the story of the lone company holding out against an attack from two German battalions soon echoed around the French Army. For his actions in defending Rodeberg against a superior force and his outstanding leadership during the period 16 – 30 April Commandant Sisowath was made a legionnaire of the Legion of Honour.
I am curious about the man you call Prince Sisowath. Wikipedia doesn't have much I'm afraid. Do you know where on the internet there might be more information on this individual? Your idea of Cambodia having a stronger king from the forties on is interesting, keep going.
Hi guys,

Prince Sisowath Pinnoret was the eldest son of King Sisowath Monvirong, the last Sisowath King before King Norodom Sihanouk. In the OTL he was educated in France and died in 1919 at the age of 24. There is almost nothing that has been written about him, so it provides me with more opportunities to fill in the gaps . I have included the link here to the Cambodian Royal family tree, but because there are two family lines it is slow going.

His younger brother Sisowath Monrieth was educated at St Cyr and fought in the battle of France in 1940 and I am fairly certain he wrote a biography. But I think that it is in French.
The Playboy Prince

The Great War ended in November 1918 and for Prince Sisowath, his future beckoned. With his military service completed he elected to stay in France to complete his studies. The usual choices of study for a Prince were history, politics or if they were academically inclined to read law. Casting aside tradition he opted for economics as it sought to explain the interplay between government, business and finance. With his choice of discipline determined, he commenced study at the picturesque mansions of the Institut d'Études Politiques upon the Seine in 1919.

Having survived the Great War he was filled with a strong desire to enjoy life to the utmost and soon established a reputation as a ‘playboy prince.’ He travelled throughout Europe, including an annual retreat to the gaming tables of Macao, and utilised his freedom to visit Germany and witness their resurgent industrial might. During his study he became acquainted with the works of Adam Smith, David Ricardo and particularly the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, whom he met during his postgraduate study in 1923. Graduating cum laude with his Masters degree in 1924 he decided to work for Societe Generale as an economist.

Societe Generale provided Prince Sisowath with an opportunity to apply his studies and also gave him another source of income to subsidise his flamboyant lifestyle. Another reason for delaying his return to Cambodia, was a beautiful French woman named Anne Marie.

Anne Marie

1920 - 1926, Paris and Toulon

During his studies and after at Societe Generale his combination of an aristocratic heritage and a dilettante lifestyle soon compelled him to become a member of the Racing Club de France. Attracted by the physicality and the élan of French Rugby Union he soon began playing, achieving prominence as an attacking centre within their First Fifteen. The outstanding player of their team was Yves du Manoir a perfect gentlemen, a university student at the Ecole Polytechnqiue and another young man who enjoyed the Parisian night life. It was through his good offices that he was introduced to Anne Marie at a dinner party.

Their relationship soon blossomed with an intense love developing between the two. That the fling deepened into a relationship surprised their friends, however in time they accepted the happiness that existed between the elegant brunette ballerina and the athletic Khmer Prince. However both knew that it could not last, as Prince Sisowath would not repudiate his birth right to marry her and her family would never accept an occidental man, no matter how well born, as their son in law. Their splendid isolation was interrupted by a letter from his father Sisowath Monvirong.
My dearest son,

I trust that you are well and your work at Societe Generale is productive. Unfortunately I bring you ill news, King Sisowath becomes more frail with each passing day and cannot be expected to live much longer. You have served with honour in the colours of France and achieved distinction with your academic and professional achievements. However, I remind you of your duty to our King and your country Cambodia, it is time to return home.
Yours sincerely,

Sisowath Monvirong
So reluctantly after ten years in France he bade farewell to his friends at the Racing Club, and his banking colleagues at a raucous party at the Paris Olympia involving a large quantity of quality champagne and cabaret dancers. The following day nursing a sore head he boarded a train to Toulon with Anne Marie, both eager to spend their remaining time with each other. On the train ride they made love countless times as a means of holding onto each other forever. All things must come to an end, and soon they were on Milhaud quay embracing for a final time before he boarded the ship. He kissed her, turned and strode purposefully up the gangway – pausing to salute as he was piped before crossing onto the ship.

He rested against the ships railings capturing the image of his beloved Anne Marie in his memory for eternity. Her brunette hair gently waving with the wind, her petite figure enhanced by her Lanvin dress and the tears that streamed down her cheeks, and his heart in his throat as he staunched his own tears. She became progressively smaller as the harbour disappeared from view, steeling his heart he resolved to commit himself to Cambodia as he went below decks to his cabin.

Prince Sisowath did not know at the time he left not only Anne Marie, but also a son. Below is Eva Green as Anne Marie in the movie adaptation of the love affair between Prince Sisowath and Anne Marie entitled ‘The King and I.’

From little things, big things grow

January 6 1927, Phnom Penh

Prince Sisowath sat at the head of the table, looking at the three Khmer Chen businessmen seated on each side with a small manila folder in front of them. On his left was Lim Chim Choon who ran one of the largest construction firms within Phnom Penh, Tan Hoon Siang a rubber plantation owner from Kampong Cham, and Liem Soe Hi the sugarcane producer from Svay Rieng. He was amazed that their schedules could be aligned, and that they were willing to listen to his proposal – Well being a Prince should have some benefits he thought. Mr Tan coughed politely into his hand, reminding him of the reason for their meeting.

‘Gentlemen thank you for your attendance today, as I am sure you are aware the Bank Francaise pour le Commerce has branches in Phnom Penh, Saigon, Da nang, Haiphong and Ha Noi. It has no competition, apart from the informal money lending market, but it is not designed for the,’ he paused searching for the right term, ‘Indochinese businessman. Even if my esteemed guests were granted loans it is at punitive interest rates in comparison to the colons, ignoring your commercial acumen and potential for greater returns.’

A general nodding of heads in consensus greeted him as he looked at each businessman in turn. Mr Tan, the elder statesmen of the group, looked around the table and then spoke, ‘We are well aware of the faults attached to the French administration but what does your Highness propose.’

‘It is my belief gentlemen that there is a clear market for a formalised banking system to provide funds to both small scale industries and commercial projects for the Indochinese. With a starting base of 60 000 piastre each will give us a total capitalisation of 180 000 piastre. As you are aware that should be sufficient for the majority of our loans, but in the event that a client wishes to borrow a significant portion and we feel that it is a sound investment, I have an agreement from Societe Generale to underwrite a loan up to 100 000 francs or 200 000 piastre.‘

‘Your Highness I agree that there is a niche in the market, but why should our potential customers change from their informal banking system with a degree of flexibility to a formal banking system that is inflexible?’

‘Quite simply the fact that we will be here and remain here, with the informal market there is always the chance that a money lender can charge excessive interest rates or resort to violence in the event of non payment due to draught or famine. The advantage that we have a Prince involved that will assist in the standing of our institution at its commencement, something our good reputation will enhance when we begin trading. After all if we have defaulters... we always have the Gendarme.’

Laughter echoed around the room, I have them now Prince Sisowath thought. ‘Therefore I believe we are in agreement, you are free to peruse the business plan in front of you, but I am certain that we can formalise this arrangement by the start of next month.’ He paused as a waiter slowly entered with a trolley, providing each man with a cup of rice wine. ‘I feel that a round of congratulations is in order for our new business partners, to the future of the Phnom Penh Banking Corporation.’

Agriculture accounted for 90% of their GDP with 10% from light industrials sources, there was only limited cash crops (i.e. rubber). Cambodia was primarily used as the bread basket of French Indochina, but even then there was considerable scope for more intensification. Minor commerce was either Chinese or Vietnamese dominated, with the larger firms / plantations tied to colonialism.