I grew up in the 1970s seeing images of death and destruction in Cambodia on TV. When we think of violence and Cambodia, we tend to think of the Khmer Rouge and the horrors of their period in power. And many people will know of America’s war efforts here prior to that period, but it’s not a place many associate with the British Army. Yet we have been here.
During the Second World War, a Vichy French administration ran the country until March 1945, when the Japanese ended French control and interned many of the members of the French administration. In August, Japan surrendered, and in October 1945 our Lieutenant Colonel E.D. Murray moved into Phnom Penh with a detachment of Gurkhas to supervise the surrender and disarming of the Japanese troops.
In November 1945, our troops were involved in an operation with the cooperation of surrendered Japanese troops to take much-needed food supplies from Phnom Penh to Saigon. And by 25 November, the security situation was sufficiently under control for Murray to start formal surrender procedures.
The French were keen to return to Cambodia, and we assisted them. Shortly after our forces arrived in Cambodia, the French resumed control, though not for long. The fact is that, as we see later, particularly in the case of Vietnam, our occupation of this region did play a significant role in its dramatic history.