Marshal Joffre’s visit to Saigon, 9-13 December 1921

General Joseph Joffre in 1915, before he became a Marshal (Musée Carnavalet)

This article was published previously in Saigoneer

French government photographers have left us a detailed photographic record of Great War hero Marshal Joffre’s December 1921 visit to Saigon 

After distinguishing himself in World War I, former French Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre (1852-1931) became a Marshal of France and turned his attention to diplomatic affairs. It was in this capacity, in 1921-1922, that Joffre embarked on a grand goodwill tour taking in the United States, Indochina, Siam, Japan and China.

Marshal Joffre in Saigon

Altogether, Joffre spent nearly a month in Indochina, visiting Cochinchina, Cambodia, Annam and finally Tonkin, where he had served between 1885 and 1888 as an engineering officer. In advance of his visit, several streets and squares were named after him.

From the time of his arrival in Saigon on the morning of 9 December 1921 to his departure for Phnom Penh on 13 December 1921, Joffre’s visit was tightly choreographed and very thoroughly documented by government photographers.

Here is just a small selection from the many images taken during Joffre’s visit, along with his complete itinerary, which was published in the Écho annamite newspaper (22 November 1922) nearly two weeks before his visit!


An “Arc de Triomphe” was installed in the rue Catinat in honour of Marshal Joffre

Marshal Joffre and the Governor-general leave the Palace

Day 1 – 9 December 1921

8am – Embarcation at the Rigault de Genouilly pier
9.30am – Presentation of government agencies and services at the Palace of the Government-general
11am – Reception at the Town Hall, address by the Mayor
12pm – Private lunch at the Palace of the Government-general
4pm-5pm – Visit to Saigon, passing through the place du Maréchal Joffre (former water tower square)
5.30pm – Visit to the Governor of Cochinchina
6pm – Reception for war veterans
7.30pm – Private Dinner at the Palace of the Government-general
8.30pm-9pm – Torchlight procession
9.30pm – Fireworks display

Marshal Joffre and the Governor-general visiting the Chinese city

Marshal Joffre meeting notables in Cholon

Marshal Joffre at the ceremony for laying the foundations of the TSF station in Cholon

Marshal Joffre at the horse races

Day 2 – 10 December 1921

9am-10am – Visit to Cholon
10.15am – Laying the foundations at the new TSF (Wireless) Station, Cholon
12pm – Lunch at the Palace of the Government of Cochinchina
4pm – Horse Racing
5.30pm – Reception for indigenous notables of the Government of Cochinchina
6pm – Reception for Catalans at the Continental Hotel
8pm – Dinner at the Palace of the Government-general
9.45pm – Ball at the Palace of the Government-general

Officers stand to attention as Marshal Joffre reviews the troops in Saigon on 11 December 1921

Tanks parade before Marshal Joffre in Saigon

Day 3 – 11 December 1921

7.30am – Grand review of garrison troops
12pm – Private lunch at the Palace of the Government-general
4.30pm – Flower parade
7.30pm – Dinner at the Palace of the Government-general
9pm – Reception at the Cercle militaire

Ethnic minorities visiting Saigon in honour of the arrival of Marshal Joffre

The Palace of the Government-general in Saigon, illuminated in honour of Marshal Joffre

Day 4 – 12 December 1921

Morning – Excursion to Cap-Saint-Jacques, breakfast at the Cap
Afternoon – Return to Saigon, or trip to Thudaumot, Bienhoa
8pm – Private Dinner at the Palace of the Government-general
9pm – Public ball, boulevard Charner

Day 5 – 13 December 1921

8.30am – Departure from Saigon to Phnom Penh

Officers in charge of different parts of the programme

Torchlight procession: COMMANDANT GUILLERMEAU
Flags, Illuminations and Fireworks: Messrs. JOSSE & ROCHÉ
Horse races: M. BALLOUS
Public ball: Messrs. MARTIN & FONTANA

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and also conducts Saigon and Chợ Lớn Heritage Tours.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

The Railways of Viet Nam – an illustrated talk

A “Rafale” armoured train pictured in south-central Việt Nam during the late 1940s, image from the archives of ECPAD (Etablissement de Communication et de Production Audiovisuelle de la Défense)

The Railways of Việt Nam is a new one-hour illustrated talk by Tim Doling, author of The Railways and Tramways of Việt Nam (White Lotus Press, 2012).

Illustrated by over 140 historic maps and images, this one-hour talk recounts the fascinating story of Việt Nam’s rail network, most of which was built as a tool of colonial exploitation by the French between 1885 and 1936.

One of the Saigon-Mỹ Tho line’s five SACM Belfort 4-4-0T “locomotives à grande vitesse” stands at Saigon Depot in the early 1900s

Its turbulent history mirrors that of Việt Nam through more than 90 years of colonialism, 30 years of devastating war and 40 years of reconstruction.

The first half of the talk traces the growth of the Vietnamese rail network, starting with the very first railway lines from Saigon to Mỹ Tho (1885) and from Phủ Lạng Thương (Bắc Giang) to Lạng Sơn (1894), and continuing through the construction of the Transindochinois (North-South line), which was opened in five successive stages between 1905 and 1936.

It examines French attempts to build lines of exploitation into southern China via Lào Cai and Đồng Đăng, and also looks at the abortive 1920s scheme for an “Interior rail route” through the Mekong valley, of which only the extraordinary rail-and-cable-car connection from Tân Ấp to Xóm Cục and Ban Na Phao (see The Railway which Became an Aerial Tramway) and the so-called “Rubber Line” from Saigon to Lộc Ninh (see Saigon’s Rubber Line) were actually achieved.

One of over 960 sabotage incidents on the South Vietnamese railway network in 1965

It also considers the repeated failure of the French to connect Phnom Penh with Saigon, the “missing link” which, when eventually completed, will link Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok directly with Beijing, Moscow and Europe.

The second half of the talk examines the devastating effect on the railway network of more than three decades of war, beginning with Allied bombing during the later years of Japanese occupation (1943-1944), and continuing with the catastrophic damage inflicted during the First and Second Indochina Wars (1945-1975).

The talk assesses the impact of war on the rail network both in the North (Democratic Republic of Việt Nam) and in the South (Republic of Việt Nam).

It brings the story up to date by looking at the gradual reconstruction and development of the rail network which took place after 1975.

66 TrainThe talk concludes with a brief overview of recent plans to develop a modern twin-track electrified standard gauge railway, linked not just to China but also to Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand.

For more details please email

Tim Doling is the author of The Railways and Tramways of Việt Nam (White Lotus Press, Bangkok, 2012) and also conducts 16-day and 13-day Việt Nam Rail Tours.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group Rail Thing – Railways and Tramways of Việt Nam for more information about Việt Nam’s railway and tramway history and all the latest news from Vietnam Railways.