History of Phu Quoc
The battle of national hero Nguyen Trung Truc
Another famous historical figure – National hero Nguyen Trung Truc (1838 -1868), leader of the anti-French movement in the second half of the 19th century in the South, had to flee to Phu Quoc island when in danger.
At dawn on June 16, 1868, Nguyen Trung Truc’s insurgent army suddenly attacked Kien Giang fort (now the area where the People’s Committee of Kien Giang province is located), killing 5 French officers, 67 soldiers, and collecting many guns and ammunition. However, after this victory, a few days later the French command in My Tho mobilized counterattack forces. Because the enemy army was too strong, Nguyen Trung Truc had to withdraw to Hon Chong (Kien Luong) and then cross the sea to Phu Quoc island, stationed in the forest in Cua Can commune.
In September 1868, the French continued to mobilize powerful forces to Phu Quoc Island to pursue the Nguyen Trung Truc insurgent army. The insurgents fought fiercely for months on the island. After arresting Nguyen Trung Truc, on October 27, 1868, the French authorities brought him to be executed at Rach Gia market. Before his death, he wrote a poem and affirmatively declared: “Bao giờ người Tây nhổ hết cỏ nước Nam thì mới hết người Nam đánh Tây” “When the westerner pulls up all our roots, only then will we fight him.”
After Nguyen Trung Truc’s death, temples worshiping this brave national hero sprang up in most of the western provinces. At the communal house in the forest in Hamlet 2, Cua Can Commune (Phu Quoc), people also built a longhouse to store the battle boat of the insurgent Nguyen Trung Truc. The artifacts of the insurgents are displayed in solemn positions by the Coi Nguon museum on Phu Quoc Island.
Near the mouth of Cua Can river is the tomb of General Ba Lon – the wife of General Nguyen Trung Truc, which is also embellished and looked after by the people day and night. People on Phu Quoc island still circulate the story that: Nguyen Trung Truc’s wife gave birth to a child but lacked milk to breastfeed.
Knowing this, the French army ordered that whoever breastfed Nguyen Trung Truc’s child would die for three generations. Villagers in Cua Can were afraid to give milk. Going to beg for milk in the whole village, no one fed him. Nguyen Trung Truc’s wife got on a boat to cross the sea to the mainland to save her child, but the boat ran aground and the mother and child died. The place Cua Can was born from there.
After Ba Lon passed away, in Cua Can commune, anyone who gave birth to a child could not take care of it. People said that the Great General hated people, so whoever gave birth to a child was taken away. If people in Cua Can want to raise their children, they have to go to another place to give birth, and after the breastfeeding period, they dare to bring them home. General Lon’s grave was found on April 27, 1963, in Dong Ba area, hamlet 3, Cua Can commune. Every year on the 18th and 19th day of the 8th lunar month, people hold a ceremony to worship her.
Phu Quoc Prison is likened to “Hell on Earth”, built during the French period, about 40 hectares wide, called “Coconut Camp”, holding nearly 14,000 people.
At the end of 1955, President Ngo Dinh Diem, of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam, built a prison at the old Coconut Tree Campsite with an area of 4 hectares, dividing the prison into zones: Male prison area, residential area, prison for women, and prison for the elderly, named “Coconut Training Camp”.
History books record that, in 1966, the war escalated, leading to an increase in the number of prisoners. The government of the Republic of Vietnam built an additional prison of more than 400 hectares, 2 km from the old Coconut Tree camp. There are 12 areas, numbered from 1 to 12. Each zone had 4 subdivisions A, B, C, D.
Each division had 9 rooms for prisoners to live in, 2 rooms for interviews, fines, or solitary confinement. Each detention area had an area of 100 m2, holding from 70 to 120 people. The solitary confinement areas were only 30m2, but at peak times, they held up to 180 people or more. Around each subdivision, there were 4 sentry points that were guarded 24h with 10 mobile sentries.
The prison was surrounded by 10 layers of barbed wire, surrounded by non-residents, and completely isolated from the outside. Every day, there were 2 vehicles patrolling continuously around the detention area, at night there were also teams entering the fence to control the movement.
Phu Quoc prison became the largest prisoner detention center of the Republic of Vietnam, holding up to 40,000 prisoners of which 4,000 soldiers were killed by brutal torture.
Coming to Phu Quoc prison, through the introduction of the guides and fact-finding, we can feel the barbarism of the prison’s terrible torture punishments through the reconstructed model. One of the most savage beatings was crucifixion.
They used old, rusty nails 3-7cm long to hammer into their fingers, neck joints, knees, etc., after being nailed, the prisoners’ bones would crumble. They also used high-pressure lamps to shine in prisoners’ eyes to fry their pupils.
The barbed-wire cage kept prisoners outdoors day and night. In the narrow cage one could neither stand nor sit, the sand below was burning, and the barbed wire above was eviscerating. In addition, they also forced prisoners to turn their heads into iron plates to scratch their skin and bleed…
Many soldiers could not stand those barbaric tortures and died here. It is estimated that about 4,000 soldiers lost their lives and tens of thousands of soldiers carried injuries and disabilities for life.
Painful and indignant at their cruelty, the soldiers repeatedly organized prison escapes. The most famous is the miraculous escape of more than 20 soldiers by tunnel (120m long, 0.6m wide) dug by themselves with spoons and iron pieces for many months.
In 1995, the historical site of Phu Quoc Prison was recognized as a national relic. This is the most realistic depiction of the brutality and barbarism of the enemy. Now, the war has passed, but Phu Quoc prison is still the haunt of revolutionary soldiers and tourists.