Finding James


I don’t understand you Africans who are out here fighting…” [1].

The largest mobilization of men in Africa in modern times occurred during the Second World War; Britain mobilized more than 240,000 (mainly) men and women from West Africa for campaigns in East Africa against the Italians and in Burma against the Japanese. The propaganda machine in British West Africa emphasized that the war was being waged for freedom and against racist ideologies of Germany (especially), Italy and Japan [2] even as these same racist ideas and discrimination were the norm in UK, the USA and many parts of the European world. The British Colonial Army was segregated by race as were many of the European armies [3]. It may be that for Africans, Second World War actually started in 1935 when Italy invaded Abyssinia.


Shaw joined the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF) to form the core of one of the various modern corps of African armed forces who were educated and skilled professionals. The attitude toward military service was shifting from one of an undesirable profession among Africans.  In general, however, literate and educated African soldiers were paid less than their European counterparts. African Americans soldiers earned more than their African counterparts. [4]

At the end of war in 1945, the European powers had been swept away; the emergent world powers were the USA and the Soviet Union. The superstructure of racism and racial ideologies and white supremacy were crumbling and under assault everywhere in the world. The defeat of Nazi German and fascist Italy only heralded the defeat of colonialism in Asia and Africa. However, the contribution of African Soldiers to the transformation of the world is often overlooked. These soldiers also went back home with a keen awareness of the global military industrial complex and racist inequalities that existed world-wide.  In the Kaladan Valley in Burma, the 81st Division of the RWAFF distinguished themselves in fierce battle with the Japanese.

African veterans of the war contributed significantly –whether overtly or implicitly– to the demise of the colonial era upon their return home through their militancy. In the Gold Coast, one cataclysmic event that foreshadowed the struggle for independence was the killing of ex-service men who were demonstrating against the colonial government in February 1948. This event transformed the politics of the colony when riots broke out and the six leaders of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) party were imprisoned.

Notes

1. David Killingray 2012. Fighting for Britain: African Soldiers in the Second World War. Suffolk, UK; Rochester, NY: James Currey, imprint of Boydell & Brewer Publishers, Ltd. Page 214.

2. Peter Clarke 1986. West Africa at War 1914-18, 1939-45: Colonial Propaganda and its Colonial Aftermath. London: Ethnographica Ltd.

3. David Killingray 2012. Fighting for Britain: African Soldiers in the Second World War. Suffolk, UK; Rochester, NY: James Currey, imprint of Boydell & Brewer Publishers, Ltd. Page 238.

4. Ibid, Page 208.