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Origns of Thailand's Armed Forces Day

THE 25th OF JANUARY marks Armed Forces day in Thailand, and while not a national holiday, all Thais are reminded on this day of how much they owe to the country's armed services: The Royal Thai Army, The Royal Thai Air Force, The Royal Thai Navy ( incorporating the Royal Thai Marine Corps).

The basic role of our country's armed services is the defence of the realm; a burgeoning responsibility that encompasses national security of the country's borders, internal security, a role currently under the international microscope as our forces attempt to restore peace to the largely Muslim populated regions of the South. But in recent years, Thai forces have been active in United Nations peacekeeping missions in East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was among the first of the world's statesmen to give public support to the United States' global war on terrorism, following the now infamous 9/11 attack on New York city. Although intelligence reports see no specific external threat to the kingdom during the next decade, the armed forces are consequently moving to develop a balanced force capable of reacting to any unexpected rise in such a threat level; this includes the development of a limited power projection capability.

The average citizen, however, has little knowledge, or understanding of the nationwide role of the armed forces; oftentimes seeing them only on state occasions, during official parades, or fly-pasts. As we go to print, members of the country's special forces are embroiled in border conflicts with insurgents, and not just in the South!

But Armed Forces Day is remembered not only for the sterling work of our armed services personnel on a daily basis, but in commemoration of a fierce, and bloody battle that took place on the 25th of January, 434 years ago.

On that day in 1592, a young monarch defeated invading forces from neighbouring Burma, and became known to his people as King Naresuan The Great. This battle, and subsequent victory for the Siamese Army, was the culmination of a boyhood dream kept alive during the then Prince Naresuan's years of captivity by land-grabbing Burmese princes.

During what historians allude to as "the first fall of Ayutthaya", the ancient capital of Siam, Prince Naresuan, at the tender age of nine, was kidnapped by marauding Burmese troops and carried back to Burma where he was held hostage in order to keep Siamese forces at bay. One can only imagine the terror of a nine year old at being dragged from his home and family, and carried into captivity. Less than a hundred years before the abduction of Prince Naresuan, the two sons of England's King Edward the IV disappeared to the tower of London, under the care and protection of their uncle; the man later to known as "Good King Richard." The boys were never again seen alive. And in France, the son of King Louis the XIV and Marie Antoinette, The Dauphin (heir to the throne), died of tuberculosis in a Paris dungeon during the French revolution, more than two hundred years after the abduction of the young Siamese royals. Prince Naresuan, however, proved to be made of not only sterner, but almost Machiavellian stuff; and during his years in captivity never lost sight of his Siamese heritage, constantly plotting his revenge against his Burmese captors.

Being a royal personage, he was permitted to mingle with his Burmese counterparts and their courtiers. The young prince observed every move and overheard every battle plan being discussed at the highest level; all the while maintaining his air of the dejected captive. As he progressed through his teenage years, the prince was allowed to serve with the Burmese Army during raids into towns occupied by the tribes of the Shan and the Mon. His prowess on the field of battle resulted in a plot by jealous Burmese princes to have him assassinated upon his return to the then Burmese capital of Ava. Alerted to this by a Buddhist monk in the Mon town of Muang Kraeng, the young prince's hatred for his Burmese captors finally came to a head. Calling the townspeople and his troops to a meeting, he declared publicly his intention to restore independence to the Kingdom of Siam. In 1584, he led his army and ten thousand freed people, back to Ayutthaya.

Following the death of his father, Prince Naresuan, at the age of 35 became King of Siam. Two years later, his dream of driving the Burmese from his country became a reality. The Burmese armies launched yet another land-grabbing foray into Siam. And, as they approached the town of Nhong Sarai (Supanburi Province), en route to lay waste yet again to Ayutthaya, King Naresuan lured the Burmese into an ambush and fell upon his enemy without mercy. At the height of the battle, King Naresuan rode his elephant through the melee in search of the most hated enemy of his years spent in captivity, the Burmese Crown Prince. Spotting his bete noire in the midst of the battle, the King drove a lance though his enemy's body, thereby ending the battle, and subsequently being hailed as King Naresuan The Great.

Another Siamese monarch to have bestowed upon him the title of "The Great", came almost a century later when the Burmese exacted their revenge by laying waste to the beautiful capital city of Ayutthaya, which by now, because of its infinite splendour, had become known as the "Venice of the East".

It was in the year of 1767 that thousands of Siamese were put to the sword, their glorious capital reduced to ruins. As the forces of the Burmese King, Hsinbyushin of the Alaungpaya dynasty ran amok through the Golden Capital of Siam, rivers of blood flowed through the great city's streets, and much of the capital's art, architecture and literature of that period were lost forever. Nothing was spared; even the more sacred buildings were put to the torch and, as the heat from the flames intensified, the gold from the glittering spires and countless Buddhist vessels melted, mingling with the blood of the slain Siamese.

One of the few to have survived this bloodbath, was a young Siamese Army commander by the name of Taak Sin. He fled south to the coastal province of Rayong, where he set about planning how to rid forever his country of the Burmese invaders. Realising that Ayutthaya had been razed to the ground, he set about establishing the new capital city of Thonburi, deeming it to be on a safer site than that of Ayutthaya, due to its sturdy fortifications and proximity to the sea.

Taak Sin soon attracted a level of adulation that centuries later would be bestowed upon such great military tacticians as Field Marshals Montgomery, Rommel, and the ultimate soldier's soldier, General George S. Patton. The offspring of a Siamese mother and Chinese father, Taak Sin had been educated in Buddhist monasteries, with a view to entering either the priesthood or government service. Choosing the latter, he quickly rose through the ranks to qualify as a circuit judge. Some years later, judge Taak Sin was appointed deputy governor to the province and city which, to this day, bears his noble name, Taak. Taak Sin,by 1768, became King Somdej Phrapabomrajaa; but will forever be known as King Taak. His dream of ridding Siam of the dreaded Burmese would prove time-consuming, to say the least.

On one occasion, as the persistent Burmese forces advanced and occupied Chiang Mai, Taak Sin lost all patience with his enemy. The Burmese commander of the day, had his men retreat through Chang Puak Gate and run toward what is now Chotana Road. Taaksin's forces swept though the city, chasing the invading army into the countryside, where, doubtless, they were dealt with according to rural law - death by hanging or by machete.

And so it was that, throughout all Siam, that King Taak Sin earned the title "King Taaksin The Great." Brutal? Of course! How can you imagine today's Thailand, "The Land of Smiles," to have survived the attentions of so many potential colonists down the centuries without its armed forces showing no mercy to such invaders?

On the 25th of January, as the people of Thailand show gratitude towards the men and women of their armed forces, they would do well to recall with pride the two warrior Kings who made this day so special, King Naresuan The Great and King Taak Sin The Great.

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