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Marshal Joffre’s 1921 Visit to Saigon

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.

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 December 9, 1921 to his departure for Phnom Penh on December 13, 1921, Joffre’s visit was tightly choreographed and very thoroughly documented by government photographers.

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

An “Arc de Triomphe” was installed in the Rue Catinat in honor of Marshal Joffre. Note the banner hung on the upper facade of the Continental Hotel.

Day 1: December 9, 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.

Day 2: December 10, 1921

9am-10am – Visit to Cho Lon

10:15am – Laying the foundations at the new TSF (Wireless) Station, Cho Lon

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

Tanks parade before Marshal Joffre in Saigon.

Day 3: December 11, 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 honor of the arrival of Marshal Joffre.

Day 4: December 12, 1921

Morning – Excursion to Cap-Saint-Jacques, breakfast at the cape

Afternoon – Return to Saigon, or trip to Thu Dau Mot, Bien Hoa

8pm – Private dinner at the Palace of the Government-General

9pm – Public ball, Boulevard Charner

Marshal Joffre meeting notables in Cho Lon.

Day 5: December 13, 1921

8:30am – Departure from Saigon to Phnom Penh


Officers in charge of different parts of the program

Torchlight procession: Commandant Guillermeau

Flags, Illuminations and Fireworks: Messrs. Josse & Roché

Horse races: M. Ballous

Flower parade: Messrs. Ballous, Messmaecker, Fontana, Josse, Roché, Le Villain, Jacque

Public ball: Messrs. Martin and Fontana

Marshal Joffre at the ceremony for laying the foundations of the TSF station in Cho Lon.

Marshal Joffre at the horse races.

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tours book Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and also conducts four-hour Heritage Tours of Historic Saigon and Cho Lon. For more information about Saigon history and Tim's tours visit his website,

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