When will we remember them?

Ever since I first stepped foot on English soil, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the whole country falls into a two-minute silence in order to honour the British men and women who have died for their country since the First World War. The build-up to Remembrance day is inescapable and on Remembrance Sunday, chapel services are held all over the country in order to give due to all those who have died in the name of Britain and the Commonwealth.

I remember being barely out of primary school when I discovered that other brown faces, aside from South-Asian ones, were also part of the First and Second World War effort. Imagine my shock when I discovered that West Africans, East Africans, Southern Africans, and men and women from the Caribbean had also joined the allied powers and laid down their lives for the good  of the "Great British Empire". Some colonial soldiers voluntary joined the British forces because they genuinely believed they were British and needed to protect their mother country. Others were forced to join via conscription. Whatever their reasons for joining, these men and women fought just as hard as white Brits in the quest to defend Britain and her allies. However, although South-Asian contribution to the wars has been well-documented, with support for Nepalese veterans from famous faces, I feel that African and Caribbean contributions to the two World Wars have been chronically ignored. The number of Africans that were part of the war effort is truly astounding:

The accompanying article from the BBC does a far better job than me in illustrating just how much Africa did for the allied forces and it's definitely worth a read. All I'm asking is that tomorrow, when your hand is below your red poppy in that two-minute silence, spare a thought for the hundreds of thousands of Africans whom the British would like to gently erase from the history books.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Poem from For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon (Ode of Remembrance), 1914


10 opinionated people have something to say:

Myne Whitman said...

You're very right. The point was driven home for me when I read Burma Boy by Biyi Bandele. Nice write-up.

Afrocentric said...

Wow, I never realised that Africans fought in WW1. My two minute silence will definitley be in honour of them!

Afrocentric said...
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Abena Serwaa said...

Interesting! I was just reflecting on this. When I was in England for grad school I wondered what all the plastic poppies were about. I asked one of my flatmates and she was slightly perplexed when I asked her about remembrance for colonial recruits. BTW; Did you know that Senegalese Tiralleurs (Sharp shooters) were often sent out first in battle in World War I and were on the heavy-casualty receiving end? Somehow I'm comforted by the fact that the ex-servicemen were instrumental in the post WW2 independence movement across Africa. It was hard to argue freeing people from fascist oppression in Europe when you kept them in bondage in your colonies.

Nita said...

Time to go ancestor-a- hunting.Two minute silence beginning next year..

Nsoromma...Child of the Heavens said...

It's so sad that so few people know this. I must that a teacher who truly annoyed me at school with her 'black power', Miss Matheson, for my knowledge. Because every year she made sure not a person in the school could forget exactly who we were honouring.

Agnes Agyepong said...

I knew they contributed but not to this extent. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. This is such a well written and informative article and i hope as much people read it and are educated about this disgraceful lack of acknowledgment as possible.

Sankofa said...

@Myne Whitman That sounds like an interesting read. I'll keep my eyes peeled for it.

@Afrocentric We were there in our numbers. Look at how good a job they've done in erasing us from history....

@Abena Serwaa Sometimes I feel like people wear the poppies somewhat blindly, just so they have a superficial sense of being a "good" Brit. I didn't know that about the Senagalese sodiers and you're right- at least they were able to highlight how African involvement in the war could aid the end of colonialism.

@Nita You can remember them whenever you want! We must not be confined to Remembrance day.

@Nsoromma The famous Mrs. Matheson again? You should send her a card!

@Agnes Thanks a lot. I think it may be up to us to spread the word because the media are sure dragging their heels about the facts.

(im)perfect_black ☥☥☥ said...
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(im)perfect_black ☥☥☥ said...

nice post.

the conflicts themselves need to be critiqued. i think of the two so-called world wars as a continuation of euro-western violence. yet the BBC, and the western media generally, depict Africa as violent, corrupt, failed states, etc. they forget that stability in western europe was realized only after lots of bloodshed. kzs

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