THE “VAIN” BOY AND THE STORY OF THE BÁT SẮT (IRON BOWL) JUNIOR INTELLIGENCE TEAM
During the days of national resistance, the Hanoi Department of Public Security played a vital role in the revolutionary achievements of the fledgling government, directly fighting and defeating the enemy's rapid attack invasion strategy, and actively preparing for long-term resistance. The Hanoi Department of Public Security made countless notable and brave achievements, an outstanding achievement was performed by the Bát Sắt (Iron Bowl) Junior Intelligence Team of District 6. We visited the home of late writer Pham Thang - the author of “The Days of Remembrance” - one of the five brave boys of the Iron Bowl Junior Intelligence Team, involved in establishing the secret road into Hanoi that was occupied by the invading forces.
The house was in an alley of Cau Giay District with a small garden and mossy gate that evoked an ancient and quiet atmosphere. On that day, Thang shared a lot of written memorabilia and personal memories about the Iron Bowl Junior Intelligence Team. The memories of his days of fighting and of the members in the team were still fresh in his mind.
Hanoi Museum staff talking with late writer Pham Thang
After the Capital Regiment withdrew from Region 1, Hanoi was invaded and occupied by the French. President Ho Chi Minh instructed the Central Public Security Department to quickly put the resistance forces into operation at the heart of the enemy. In 1947, District 6 Public Security Team was established under the order of the Hanoi Department of Public Security to take the initiative and surprise the enemy. Five members of the Iron Bowl Junior Intelligence Team were ordered to set out to find a secret way back to Hanoi to start a silent battle in the heart of the occupied capital.
The name Iron Bowl came from a touching story. In late 1945, on a train carrying soldiers into the South, a young boy hid in a coal wagon. A worker on the train, who fuelled the engine furnace, found the boy and led him to the corps commanders’ carriage. He asked to follow the soldiers. After a few minutes of consultation, the corps commanders decided to enlist the boy to the Southern Advancing National Guard. He was given the task of circumventing to bring the report to the superiors. At the time of his death, he was still wearing the familiar old iron bowl on his side - a memento he brought with him from Hanoi. No one knew his real name. Since that brave death, people have called him the “Iron Bowl”. After hearing of this story, all the team members unanimously asked Mr. Xuan Phuong for the team to be named “Iron Bowl Junior Intelligence Team”.
Four members of the Iron Bowl Junior Intelligence Team
Five members of the Iron Bowl Junior Intelligence Team, including Captain Hoang Quyen (Tran Van), Than - “the Powder” (Pham Van Tham), Quyen - “the Sloppy” (Nguyen Van Chuc), Tam - “the Vitiligo” (Tran Van Sam), and Thu (Tran Van Thuc), were ordered to set out to find a secret way into Hanoi to start a silent battle line in the heart of the temporarily occupied Capital. The task of the team at that time was to build secret bases among the families of workers, intellectuals, and students; investigate enemy news and situations; organize the transportation of officials in and out of the inner city; participate in killing of Vietnamese spies; and take many other bold actions. They disguised themselves as wandering children and did all types of jobs including shoe shining, newspaper selling and cigarette selling. Captain Hoang Quyen was sent to Thai Hoa maternity home, while the others were organized to work as waiters at Lido disco in Cua Bac Street. Than “the Powder” was adopted by a French officer named Lampeir and his wife. Due to his agility and cunning, “the Powder” won the trust of Lampeir so he could access and gather important intelligence information to help avoid casualties to the Vietnamese troops during battle. When the team's activities were in danger of being exposed, he proactively destroyed all the documents hidden in the house, tricked the secret agents, and returned to the free zone.
The team accomplished outstanding feats, such as transferring the orders of Comrade Phung The Tai - the Military Commander of the 2nd Military Inter-region to Battalion 202 to withdraw from the enemy's encirclement at the Vietnam Campus (on Bach Mai Street); helping comrade Tran Quang Co - a lost District 6 military reporter back to his unit; guiding a Brave Death Squad to study enemy battles in the heart of Hanoi; assisting District 5 Public Security and the Central Public Security Department in bringing intelligence officers into operation in the inner city and helping them communicate with their commanders; and delivering letters from Uncle Ho, General Vo Nguyen Giap, and fellow leaders to patriotic intellectuals and personnel trapped in Hanoi.
In addition, the team also organized the execution of Vietnamese spy Paguct (Le Huu Ba Ke) at his home and monitored the travel habits of Vietnamese oligarch Truong Dinh Tri, Chairman of the Tonkin People's Security Council, leading to his assassination by our forces.
Late writer Pham Thang with the memory of the Iron Bowl Junior Intelligence Team
“The Powder” boy of that day has become an old man in his eighties. Despite his advanced age, he is still very lucid. He said that, as a child, people called him a vain boy. His nickname was often mentioned in the book “The Days of Remembrance” – a recollection of memories from his childhood in Hanoi during the days of pain, heroism, and fierce fighting. In those days, his whole family was revolutionary. His father served as head of the resistance section. His siblings joined the armed forces. His eldest brother Pham Van Dang participated in looting Japanese granaries and later became an army colonel. His sister Pham Thi Bich Hanh, who was a member of the Iron Bowl Junior Intelligence Team (1947-1948), was a spy and leader of the secret establishment at Quoc Viet rice cake shop at 12 Hang Bun Street and died in 1952. After the August Revolution of 1945, Thang became a cadet and was commissioned as a liaison to the Central Military Medical Department.
When the national resistance broke out, he was a liaison for the Region I and the Capital Regiment. Hanoi established districts, the reconnaissance liaison team in Hom market area was merged into the public security force and operated under the name of Iron Bowl Junior Intelligence Team. In late 1948, as some establishments collapsed and activities of teenagers were no longer suitable, the superiors sent team members to military schools or army units according to their wishes.
He chose the path of becoming a soldier. In early 1949, “the Powder” was officially enlisted and assigned to the Capital Regiment, 308th Company, to participate in many major battles and campaigns such as Song Lo, Tay Bac 1, Tay Bac 2 and Pho Lu. Demobilized in 1958, he was recruited as a waiter in the central conference room of the Presidential Palace. He then moved to work at the Ministry of Education at the Hanoi University of Education until he retired.
Writer Pham Thang turned each photo and page of the book. The memory of a vibrant youth was conveyed by him in the book “Iron Bowl Junior Intelligence Team”. In the book, he was the prototype of the character “the Powder”. He wrote this book in the form of a memoir in 1964 when the Hanoi Department of Culture commissioned a program for citizens to write about memories of the resistance war against the French. Kim Dong Publishing House published the book in 1976. By the time the Iron Bowl Junior Intelligence Team was awarded the title of Hero of the People's Armed Forces in December 2012, the 7th edition of his work had been reprinted.
The book, “The Iron Bowl Junior Intelligence Team” by Pham Thang - Kim Dong Publishing House, published in 1946
After listening intently to the stories of the brave members of the Iron Bowl Junior Intelligence Team, we were deeply moved. Only a few of the boys of that era are still alive, but the memories of those days remain with time. In recognition of the outstanding achievements of the Iron Bowl Junior Intelligence Team, the Hanoi Party Committee erected a stele - recognizing the achievement of establishing a secret way into the occupied Capital - at Huynh Cung Village, Tam Hiep Commune, Thanh Tri District, Hanoi. On December 19th, 2012, President Truong Tan Sang signed the Decision to award the title of Hero of the People's Armed Forces to the Iron Bowl Junior Intelligence Team.
When we said farewell to writer Pham Thang and his family, the quiet house, surrounded by drooping leaves in the small peaceful garden with a mossy gate seemed to hold our footsteps. Thank you to late writer Pham Thang, who has forever immortalized the memories and images of the Iron Bowl Junior Intelligence Team, encouraging a sense of pride and inspiration for young Vietnamese to this day and into the future.
Nguyễn Huệ - Kiều Tuấn Đạt