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Tom Briggs | all galleries >> Galleries >> Military Items of Interest > A History Lesson (The British Vietnam War) Major General Hattori and Brigadier Woodford
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A History Lesson (The British Vietnam War) Major General Hattori and Brigadier Woodford


The photo depicts the surrender of Japanese forces in Vietnam to Brigadier E.C.J. Woodford, Commander of the 32d Indian Infantry Brigade (of the British Army). Note the British Union Jack draped over the table. The Japanese officer was Major General Hattori who offered his personal sword (forged in the year 1511) ceremoniously as a symbol of surrender. The ceremony took place sometime in late 1945 ... and herein lies three stories:

1. A little known historical fact regarding Vietnam is that there were actually THREE Vietnam Wars ... the first was the British War which lasted from 1945-1946 ... this was followed by the French Indochina war (1946-1954) ... and ultimately the US Vietnam War. What is fascinating about the FIRST Vietnam War is that the Japanese troops fought alongside the British, and ultimately under British Command, against the fledging Communish guerilla movement headed up by Ho Chi Minh. In fact, in March 1945, the Japanese (who had coexisted with the Vichy French army in Vietnam throughout the course of WWII) eventually disarmed and interred the French ... and awaited the arrival of the British Army. After the Viet Minh were silenced, the Japanese soldiers were repatriated to Japan.

2. A 1920 Sandhurst graduate, Brigadier Woodford was a much decorated British senior officer who had fought in a number of WWII battles across Africa, to include Egypt, Sicily, Burma and eventually Vietnam. After the war, he was sent to the National War College in Washington, DC, and it was there he met his future bride. They married and his next assignment was back to Egypt where they welcomed the birth of their son, Peter Woodford. Peter, in turn, became an officer in US Army and served with me in Germany in the early 1970's and who is now a successful attorney in Chicago. Further, he eventually married my secretary, Helga Woodford (nee Teschner) ....... and thus the circle is closed.

3. Please see the comments below by General Woodford (Retired) of the British Army for more on this story and the strange turn of events ... as well as a history of "The Woodfords" in British military history.

For more on this fascinating historical sidelight, go to:

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Guest 10-Feb-2023 16:42
This is incredibly interesting, and these comments are wonderful. I feel as if I should have my students come here to do some historical deep dives.
Tom Briggs14-May-2020 14:02
Josephine, many thanks for your visit to Vietnam wayyyyy back when. You'll never know how much the troops appreciated those visits. For people who would like to know more about YOUR fabulous show bix career, they can visit this website:
Josephine Josie Powell 13-May-2020 11:37
I was in Vietnam with the Hollywood USO twice. In the summer and fall of 1967.
Yiannis Pavlis15-Apr-2016 14:03
Excellent collection Tom
clickA SF28-Oct-2015 23:17
Fascinating gallery. BV
Anton 02-Oct-2013 20:05
Fredrik Logevall has a wonderful recent book (2013) Embers of War - a must read.

He portrays this period vividly. With due reference, and to add to the wonderful first hand insights on this page, it may be interesting for some visitors to read a paraphrasing of this period which Logevall details, including:

the arrival of British troops into Saigon (Nepalese Gurkhas and Muslims from the Punjab and Hyderabad in the Twentieth Indian Division) Sept, 12th, 1945 - ostensibly with the aim of preserving European colonial control in the region. Major General Douglas Gracey commander of the Twentieth, walked past the Viet Minh delegation and departed in the company of Japanese soldiers after disembarking from his C-47 at Tan Son Nhat airport. He refused to meet with Viet Minh leaders "...they came to see me and said 'welcome' and all that sort of thing, " he later said. "It was an unpleasant situation and I promptly kicked them out. They were obviously communists."

He then declared martial law on the 21st, shutting down the nationalist government, released and rearmed more than a thousand French soldiers - swollen by ranks of angry French citizens who then set out to terrorize, beat, jail, some members of the Committee of the South were hanged, and one French woman who supported the Viet Minh had her hair shaved. The following day, the French flag was flying and the "coup d'etat" had taken place. Gracey, angered by the brutality, ordered the French back to their barracks as punishment, but the Viet Minh had already ordered a general strike. By the next day, the airport was attacked, the local jail stormed, and hundreds of Viet Minh slipped past Japanese guards to massacre scores of French and Eurasian civilians, including women and children.

Thus September 23rd, 1945, is the plausible date where the war of LIberation and Independence against France began.

The head of the OSS in South Vietnam, 28 yr old Colonel Peter Dewey was a remarkably accomplished young man - entering the Polish army prior to American involvement in ww II; he joined the OSS and was a paratrooper into southern France to organise the resistance; became a member of the legendary Jedburgh teams conducting guerilla warfare within enemy lines; author of two books... Dewey was an anti-colonialist, and as such, a strong believer in the independence for South Vietnam.

Colonel Dewey had sought to meet with Gracey, who would not meet him, and further had him declared *persona non grata* for being "blatantly subversive" and demanded he leave.

On his way to the airport, the way was blocked by trees. Seeing some Vietnamese in the ditch, Colonel Dewey, fluent, swore at them in French. Perhaps believing he was French, he was shot in the back of the head and died. His driver escaped. His body was never found.

Colonel Peter Dewey was the first of nearly sixty thousand Americans to be killed in Vietnam. Before he left for the airport he wrote in his final report: "Cochinchina is burning, the French and British are finished here, and we (the United States) ought to clear out of Southeast Asia."

I am now living in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon and working here - and am amazed by these images, the history, the stories. I would love to see/ read/ any further original books, photographs, regarding the entire region, including Myanmar/ Burma that this knowledgeable group can recommend. I am also working up north in the provinces of Tuyen Quang and Ha Giang, in agriculture.

Thanks for your great work Tom. The personal story from General Woodford is wonderful.

Down with Facebook, up with these personal sites, and hidden gems.
Tom Briggs21-Aug-2013 20:47
For a fascinating book on this subject, go to:
Guest 21-Aug-2013 20:45
Totally fascinating, its now my number one mission to learn more about the British campaign in Vietnam, let me know if there are any books around.
I was reading a more up to date piece recently about some British Army Land Rovers which ended up in Vietnam...courtesy of the Australian army who shipped them across and left them behind. Wonder what happened to them...?
Dave C 21-Aug-2013 19:21
I read somewhere that the British mission was to hold the country (with the help of the Japanese prisoners) until such time as the French could come and reclaim their colony.

The Vietnamese were somehow under the impression that the with the defeat of the Axis powers (which included France) they were going to be able to take charge of their own affairs.
farangyi28-Jul-2013 11:46
Another twist to the story was that before WW11 started Thailand was a Japanese ally and on their request send Thai troops to occupy the French troops in Vietnam. It was the British that intervened and saved Bangkok from being firebombed by the US towards the end of the war when it was still occupied by the Japanese. Then the Chinese supported uprisings in Malaysia and Thailand and the US helped Thailand resist the communists and then when the US became involved in Vietnam , Thailand became an important ally even sending troops . What goes around comes around.
Roger 24-Mar-2013 22:33
Great photo and history lesson. My father served in 32nd Brigade in the I.E.M.E. I still have maps of Saigon and Cholon which he used in 1945. He was billeted in Boulevard Charles Thompson which was also the site of the workshops. On Christmas Day 1945 he was posted to Borneo (Labuan).
Guest 19-Oct-2011 03:09
Interesting read My grandfather had a similar tale being in charge of 80 brigade in Saigon
keith hittson 16-Mar-2011 20:32
Indeed a very interesting lesson in the history of Vietnam. The articles by Luis Silva provide a great insight into the conditions that existed in Vietnam at the close of WW II. Thank you for the photo and the reference website to the articles by Luis Silva.
Barri Olson19-Dec-2010 03:34
Although I studied and did a couple of papers in school about the Vietnam war, I hadn't been aware of this phase of it, and find it totally interesting. Your story and the link you provided are great and ironic history. Thanks and best regards.
Hanh Chu 05-Mar-2010 10:18
Hmm...Ho Chi Minh was aided by a history teacher, general Vo Nguyen Giap, and the American officers of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, a predecessor of the CIA) who trained, armed a band of farmers, and forged them into an effective fighting force against the Japanese.

In high school, I learned that after Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings, the Japanese surrendered and the British were sent to Vietnam to disarm their enemy, the Japanese.

To me, it is inconceivable that the British were sent to Vietnam to aid the Japanese who were already surrendered to the American to fight their savior, the Americans and their students.
Yiannis Pavlis17-Nov-2009 14:17
Thank you for sharing those photos with us Tom.
Guest 19-Jul-2009 13:48
I think this gallery is of utmost historical, photographic interest and value! Tom, what a treasure you were hiding! It's a lesson in history and photography! BV
1moremile16-May-2009 21:00
The history lesson goes deeper, as I read the entire story. VERY interesting.
mathilda williams03-Nov-2008 03:08
very interesting, thanks for keeping history alive and reminding us never to lose sight of what was once very real to so many people.
Nestor Derkach01-Sep-2008 18:33
Excellent informational image, and your guest was interesting as well.
matt_in_sha30-Aug-2008 19:35
Fascinating (as usual Tom). Thanks for sharing!!!
Tom 19-Aug-2008 23:36
Tom, thanks for including me in your address book. You never cease to amaze me.
Dan Greenberg17-Aug-2008 15:03
Tom - you have so many interesting stories with your photos. I never knew about the British involvement in Vietnam at all - I thought it reverted right back to the French. So thanks for increasing my knowledge about it. Dan
Neal Nye14-Aug-2008 11:47
This is just a terrific presentation!
Milan Vogrin13-Apr-2008 17:36
Very interesting!
mathilda williams05-Apr-2008 02:49
i just love a picture with a story that explains the history behind it.
Guest 04-Apr-2008 12:27
Mesmerizing story and image! (Miriam)
1moremile04-Mar-2008 23:39
Tom, you really know your history. Thanks for sharing this photo and this gallery--also for going over and fighting for what's right.
Mcgm04-Mar-2008 18:01
a milestone in history greatly capured ~V~
Nestor Derkach04-Mar-2008 15:01
Excellent history lesson pertaining to the image.
Dave Beedon01-Mar-2008 02:25
Thanks for sharing this fascinating personal story!
firstbrook29-Feb-2008 19:35
Fascinating Tom...with the input from General Woodford..this just gets better.......absolutely priceless.
Guest 28-Feb-2008 22:56
Brig Woodford was my uncle , whom I saw something of late in life in the USof A , when he was long retired and I was still serving in the British Army , and made a number of visits to the States in my then capacity as Director of Army training to do business with my American colleagues in what was then called TRADOC .
Of course we had endless conversations about his experiences in the War ; I now wish I'd taped them , but .....
My cousin Peter , the successful attorney you refer to , sent me this photo a while ago ; it is indeed a striking picture , and reminds me that my uncle Jim told me that his last battle was in early 1946 against the Vietminh outside Saigon ; he told me that in his Brigade he had two Japanese Battalions to add to one British , and two Indian ( one of them Sikh ) , all veterans of the Burma campaign , and some also of operations in the desert in Egypt and Libya , as well as in Sicily and Italy , as he was himself ( he spent the War almost continuously engaged with the enemy ) . He added that the Japanese were notably efficient and aggressive , rather more so than the British and Indian veteran units , who after six years of fighting had learnt a degree of caution ! ( See the memoirs of various senior commanders relating to the Normandy campaign , and the last year of the European theatre , in particular Bradley , who was critical of many outfits who'd fought through North Africa and Sicily/ Italy , and had learnt understandably to ' husband their resources ' in the face of the Wehrmacht , still a formidable enemy ) . My uncle also commanded most of Borneo in that year , and was responsible for restoring ' Rajah' Brooke to his possessions in Brunei _ but that's another story .....
To return to the photo : of course in those days the country was known as French Indo- China , and not Vietnam , a name which was adopted much later , after the French debacle at Dien-Bien-Phu in 1954 . A pity the USA was so determined that the European empires should not be restored post-war , especially the British and French ; how different and vastly better the world might have been otherwise , but I admit I write as a former colonial , born and raised in Kenya ! A country which could have been the exemplar of Africa ; look at it now ....
A last word : my uncle said to me once when we were chatting on the telephone (across the pond) that it was the anniversary of his last battle _ sadly I forget the date _ and then added that his father had fought his first battle at Tel-el-Kebir in 1882 , not to mention another of our forebears who had commanded a Battalion at Waterloo in 1815 . There was yet another who commanded the Army of South Virginia at the siege of Charleston in the American Rebellion ( or War of Independence , if you prefer ! ) but that really is another story ......
This has exceeded the 'comment ' category , so I'll stop , but not before sending you , our staunch allies still , every good wish.

David Woodford ( retired General , British Army ).
Steve Morris28-Feb-2008 20:55
Absolutely fascinating Tom - love it! V
XiaoBernard9928-Feb-2008 13:26
TOM it is very interesting.The picture is very impressiv,the formal of old fashon is always very stunning.Great thought to the version of the life so special but real.
Guest 28-Feb-2008 03:52
Didn't know there was that first Vietnam war. I'm just curious what happened to the sword after (wow forged 1511), is it only to symbolize the ceremony of surrender, and the Jap can still get to keep it?
Bob Patton28-Feb-2008 03:37
Good photo - superb history lesson. Thanks!
There's precious little difference between soldiers, no matter which army they're in. V.
Cindi Smith28-Feb-2008 02:35
Wow! What a great history lesson here! The shot is priceless! Amazing story behind it! Gotta vote!
Dave Berry28-Feb-2008 02:20
Great photo and I loved the previously unknown (by me) history lesson. The personal connection makes it all the more interesting. All in all, a worthy addition to an already stellar gallery. Thanks for the heads-up about posting it. I voted.
Dave Berry
firstbrook27-Feb-2008 23:34
Great image ....fascinating reading Tom
veraferia27-Feb-2008 22:54
I love your war lessons! This history is very interesting and the image is precious!
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