And it shall have Siamese dancers...etcetera, etcetera, etcetera...
Ever wondered about the origins of the Siam Cup? Rob Batiste explains how an unlikely friendship between the King of Thailand and a Guernseyman spawned the silver sporting trophy a century ago...
THAILAND crowned a new king this past weekend.
Maha Vajiralongkorn, henceforth to be known as King Rama X, officially ascended to the throne when a 16-pound golden cone-shaped crown – the Great Crown of Victory – was placed on his head.
In Thailand, the monarch is revered as a living god and little more than a century ago a Guernseyman got to strike up a close and trusting relationship with one of those ‘gods’ – the sixth King Rama – which resulted in the making of one of the finest silver trophies in world sport – the Siam Cup.
King Rama VI was the grandson of King Mongkut (Rama IV) the monarch made famous in the west thanks to the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I and the 1956 film of the same name. Rama IV was portrayed on both stage and on the silver screen by Yul Brynner and his co-star in the film was Deborah Kerr, playing the governess Anna Leonowens.
Whether Old Elizabethan and Cambridge Park-raised Cecil Forty ever got to hear his own friendly King of Siam utter those famous cinematic words – etcetera, etcetera, etcetera – is unknown, but thanks to his relationship with the monarch a wonderful sporting trophy was created and will celebrate its centenary next year.
Undoubtedly, Forty’s inspiration for a Siam Trophy played for by the teams of his old school, Elizabeth College and their fierce rivals, Victoria from Jersey, will have stemmed from his time at the college from 1880 to 1888.
The young Forty was a keen rugby player and when he wasn’t playing it would have been able to walk the short distance from the family home in Kings Road to Cambridge Park to watch games.
These were the days when the Guernsey Hornets, the first official rugby club on the island, were tearing up and down the pitch in that park. (It seems fitting to note that in retirement Cecil Forty lived at 3, Cambridge Park overlooking his old sporting stomping ground
We know from an account written by John Heber Forty, Cecil’s son, that aged 17 Forty was chosen to play rugby for his island.
That would have been 1897, the penultimate year of his Elizabeth College education, which was followed by an enlistment with the 1st Durham Light Infantry at the time of the Boer War.
He also served in India until nominated for a commission with the Siamese Gendarmerie, which was integrated with the newly formed Royal Thai Police in 1915.
By then rugby at Elizabeth and Victoria Colleges had given way to Association Football, a situation much lamented at a distance by Forty and four fellow Channel Islanders from their Bangkok posting, where they were members of the Bangkok United Club.
Hoping to encourage the revival of the game at Elizabeth and Victoria the four Guernseymen and one Jerseyman* set about collecting silver pieces to be melted down to make a trophy.
John Forty, Cecil’s son, writes: ‘Father, knowing the King of Siam, Rama VI, because of having served in the same regiment in the British Army and both born in the same year, asked the King if he could melt down the Thai silver coins because he wanted to give a cup in remembrance of Rugby football to the island of his birth.
‘The King not only agreed, but also ordered his silversmith to make the cup.’
The result was a magnificent work of art – a silver cup with the skill of the craftsman plain to see in the elaborate pattern of Siamese dancers and leaves that swirls across the bowl.
It was to be presented as a rugby trophy for inter-collegiate matches. But in the end, neither Elizabeth nor Victoria colleges ever did get to play for it.
Instead, the trophy was first held aloft in victory in 1929 when the 2nd Battalion Royal West, Kent, won it.
The match was played in late March at the Fort Field and the Queen’s Own beat the Guernsey Rugby Club 15-3.
That gave the Queen’s Own a fourth victory in five games in a season in which the Jersey regiment and Jersey Rugby Club were also involved.
But, no sooner had the cup competition been established, than it faded away. In the early 1930s rugby suffered a dip in popularity to the extent that the Siam trophy was not played for.
Well, not by rugger players anyway.
Instead, for a few (some might say inglorious) years it served as a billiards trophy at either the Grange or Sporting Club, before being rescued for its original purpose.
And so it was in 1935 that Guernsey beat Jersey, claiming the honour of being the first Channel Island team to lift the trophy.
Over the next five years, as Hitler’s power-play slowly took hold across Europe, both Guernsey and Jersey enjoyed successes in the trophy competition.
But in 1940, Jersey triumphed 12-3 and then had something special to protect as the occupying German forces arrived later that year.
To keep it safe from the attentions of the Germans, Forty’s trophy was hidden in the vaults of a Jersey bank.
It reappeared in 1947 to be contested in the first post-war Siam, when it was retained by the victorious Caesareans.
* Forty’s fellow Siam Cup benefactors were: Jerseyman C.P. Norman; Captain Stephen Percy Groves, who was instrumental in reviving rugby’s fortunes in Guernsey in the mid-1930s; Reginald Dobree Bainbrigge, another Old Elizabethan; and E. W. Trotter, who although he was not an OE, was Sarnian born and bred.
All five men were in the Durham Light Infantry, fought together at Ladysmith in the Boer War and were then posted to Burma and India, before all somehow bought their discharges and transferred into the Siam Gendarmerie in or around 1906.
From the rugby pitches of Cambridge Park to Siam - and back again...
BUT for a first career move, but for a chance meeting with a King, but for many things, there would not have been a Siam Cup.
No doubt inter-island cup rugby matches would have been played over the past century, but had Cecil Forty’s father not chosen Guernsey, and specifically Elizabeth College, as his first teaching post and soon after fallen in love with a Guernsey girl, then Cecil Forty might not have had the lifelong passion for rugby that he did.
But who was Cecil Forty other than Old Elizabethan No. 2518?
In a nutshell, a very interesting character who, having befriended a king, fought all sorts of foes while in the British Army and Siam Police, would have happily picked a gunfight with the Germans during the Occupation, and had a lifetime penchant for shooting birds.
On that front, the Guernsey Press weekly of 30 March 1929 shows Cecil sitting near his back door with his latest haul of bird-life, a day’s bag of snipe.
Cecil had a long and good life, which could not be said for his two brothers, both old Elizabethans.
Poor Basil fell off a horse and died aged just 20.
George Herbert was a super cricketer and captained Elizabeth in 1914, but was twice wounded in the First World War and died a young man in 1922.
In 1925, Forty’s old Royal friend, Rama VI, also died.
‘A very great loss at his early age. He was the first Siamese I had the honor of knowing,’ wrote Cecil Forty in his diary.
Two years later, Forty was back in Guernsey where, if he was not fishing or shooting, he was concentrating his time writing a book – ‘Bangkok, its Life and Sport’, which when published he dedicated to his royal friend.
When the Second World War was declared he offered his services and stayed on-island when the Germans arrived.
‘Lord Halifax had written to say no vacancies as yet, but would let me know later,’ Forty wrote, seemingly itching to add to his wartime experiences, which had previously taken him to South Africa and India.
That Halifax ignored the military expertise of a man now aged 60 was hardly a surprise, but Forty’s decision to stay means we now have his valuable recollections of the Occupation years.
‘Five years of hell for the Guernsey people who were reduced to walking scarecrows – nearly starved to death,’ he later wrote in his diary.
‘My days were spent in foraging for food and the produce of my garden helped a lot. I had my bicycle, which enabled me to get a special permit to go to the beaches. These were mined, but in spite of that I managed to get some shellfish. Also I ate snails boiled with cabbage, got blood from the Slaughterhouse and baked in the oven big blood pies of vegetables, blood and flour... In this way I managed to keep alive; though I lost much weight.’
He added: ‘The hungry German soldiers broke into many homes in search of food. I barricaded my house and garden with barbed wire and slept in my lower room with my loaded gun at my side. All guns and weapons had been collected by the Germans after they landed. All mine were handed in but I retained my best gun (Webley Richards, London).’
After the war, the elderly Forty lived at 3, Cambridge Park, the very sports ground where he once showed his skills at rugger. His life was a simple one – fishing and boating in the summer months, shooting in the winter, with a bit of dancing thrown in to keep himself fit.
He returned to Thailand in 1948 for a holiday.
In 1957, back on Guernsey, he fell and broke his thigh and after one further visit to Thailand in 1966 died in January 1967, aged 86.
Footnote: While living in Thailand Cecil Forty married a Thai farmer’s daughter who bore him 10 children, five boys and five girls. One of Forty’s grandsons, ‘Pom’, had been in regular contact with Guernsey Rugby Club chairman Charles McHugh and had accepted an invite to present the Siam Cup in 2020, the 90th anniversary match. Sadly, Pom died a few weeks ago.