Monday, March 8 2021


How the French connected Indochina

Update: December, 20/2015 - 04:20
Early days: Per the inscription on the reverse, this is Sai Gon's "Clock Place and Telegraph Office" in 1862. — Photos coutersy of Joel Montague

While the French Colonialists were busy developing the post and telecommunications sector in Indochina, they failed to realise that the infrastructure they were building would one day be used against them. Joel Montague reports.

The unusual book Le Services des P.T.T. en Indochine (Des Origines a 1940) by Rene Despierres was very likely completed during the Second World War at which time the Vichy French control of Indochina was coming to its inevitable and embarrassing end.

The rare French book has not been available to English-speaking readers until now. The book is a testimony to a great many almost totally unknown and certainly unrecognised French civil servants working for the Post Office and Telegraph bureaus in Cambodia, Laos and the three territories that are now Viet Nam: Tonkin, Annam and Cochinchine.

The book covers a largely unknown period starting in 1860 when the first post office opened in Indochina. It covers the following three-quarters of a century when a huge and useful enterprise was created by French civil servants along with their Vietnamese and other nation's employees.

En route: Stationery from Postes and Telecommunication in 1952.

By 1934, the PTT had all the trappings of a modern system, with radio, radiotelegraph, airmail, package delivery and a well-organised mail service within Indochina as well as in France.

The French operated two major centres d'emission, one in Sai Gon and the other Ha Noi, that were in charge of all of Indochina and in communication with Paris.

The Vietnamese staffed the local offices and many of them possessed some of the best technical educations then available in that part of the world.

Delivery service: Ha Noi's post office next to Paul Bert Square.

When looking back on the work of the French post and telegraph service in Indochina, one must note in retrospect that the PTT became a critical weapon in the battle by the Vietnamese to dislodge the French and then the Americans.

In the introduction, it is remarked that one of the major reasons for the Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu battle was the communication. The Vietnamese had taken over hundreds of metres of secure telephone lines to issue orders, and it was a major factor in the Vietnamese delivery.

Express: A courier transports bamboo tubes on horseback.

The book is a historical oddity of sorts and one of the very few that shows the French at work in Indochina in the earliest years.

The book is published by the Indochina Philatelist (Supplement to the ICP Whole Number 219), in September 2015. There are numerous colour illustrations and a series of caricatures and black and white images from the original publication.

The Society of Indochina Philatelists is located at 2600 North 24 Street, Arlington, VA 22207. It was translated into English from French by Marie-Helene Arnauld, with an introduction by Joel Montague. — VNS

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