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Fighting for Britain

Fighting for Britain: African Soldiers in the Second World War

with Martin Plaut
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 301
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  • Book Info
    Fighting for Britain
    Book Description:

    During the Second World War over half-a-million African troops served with the British Army as combatants and non-combatants in campaigns in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East, Italy and Burma - the largest single movement of African men overseas since the slave trade. This account, based mainly on oral evidence and soldiers' letters, tells the story of the African experience of the war. It is a 'history from below' that describes how men were recruited for a war about which most knew very little. Army life exposed them to a range of new and startling experiences: new foods and forms of discipline, uniforms, machines and rifles, notions of industrial time, travel overseas, new languages and cultures, numeracy and literacy. What impact did service in the army have on African men and their families? What new skills did soldiers acquire and to what purposes were they put on their return? What was the social impact of overseas travel, and how did the broad umbrella of army welfare services change soldiers' expectations of civilian life? And what role if any did ex-servicemen play in post-war nationalist politics? In this book African soldiers describe in their own words what it was like to undergo army training, to travel on a vast ocean, to experience battle, and their hopes and disappointments on demobilisation. DAVID KILLINGRAY is Professor Emeritus of History, Goldsmiths, and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-789-9
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Maps, Tables & Photographic Essays
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-ix)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    This book is concerned with African soldiers who served in the British colonial forces, and the South African Defence Force, during the Second World War. These men, and a very few women, have not been given the attention that they deserve in the historical literature. Indeed, there are many who will be surprised to know that large numbers of Africans served in the war in the armies of Britain, South Africa, France, Italy and Belgium. To cover all of those African soldiers in one book would be a Herculean task, so the focus here is on those who were black...

  7. 1 Africa 1939
    (pp. 11-34)

    The day war broke out, 3 September 1939, ‘was an ordinary day, a day like today’, recalled Robert Kakembo from Buganda, when serving as a soldier. ‘Most of the tribes in East and Central Africa,’ he continued, ‘did not know what the trouble was about.’¹ Josiah Mariuki, a Gikuyu, recalled that ‘the great war that came in 1939 between the Europeans did not much effect life on the farm’. Early in the war, he wrote, ‘there was an ominous rumour that Hitler was coming to kill us all and many people went fearfully down to the rivers and dug holes...

  8. 2 Recruiting
    (pp. 35-81)

    In early 1942 the 16-year-old Isaac Fadoyebo thought he would not be able to get a suitable job in Nigeria. Many years later he wrote: ‘I simply saw military service as a good job. Without consulting my parents and caring less about the consequences I took a plunge into the unknown by getting myself enlisted in the army at Abeokuta.’¹ As with many other Africans who served in the Second World War, Fadeyebo was a volunteer, eager for paid work, the chance of adventure, or perhaps to wear a uniform to impress young women. There were other men who found...

  9. 3 Army Life
    (pp. 82-120)

    For many young men the Second World War was a time of adventure and opportunity. Despite regimentation, occasional danger and much boredom, they could look back on their ‘good war’ as the most exciting time in their lives. They left home and familiar surroundings, met different people, travelled to other countries, saw new sights, and under went a range of novel experiences. This was true for many Africans who enlisted in the British colonial armies, and who entered a life very different from their civilian one. Men who had never worn boots or eaten with utensils, had never seen a...

  10. 4 Indiscipline, Strike & Mutiny
    (pp. 121-140)

    The men of the 1st Infantry Battalion, Mauritius Regiment, who landed at Diégo Suarez as part of the Madagascar invasion force on 20 December 1943 were already deeply dissatisfied. The week-long voyage had been stormy and most of the soldiers had been very seasick. There was widespread and deep resentment at the racial discrimination within Mauritian forces, which were segregated into white and non-white units. Whites were primarily combatants and paid more than non-whites who were mainly employed as military labour. All officers were white, a mixture of upper-class francophone and anglophone Mauritians, and all attempts by non-whites to gain...

  11. 5 War
    (pp. 141-178)

    On a sunny morning in March 1944 a small detachment of West African and British soldiers of the 29th Casualty Clearing Station of the 6th West African Brigade stirred in their make shift camp on the banks of the River Kaladan in Burma. As part of the 81st (West African) Division they had paddled their way down the river on flat open bamboo rafts, following the retreating Japanese forces. With nightfall they had tied up their rafts and slept between river and forest. With the light of morning a few Burmese from the village of Nyron came down to the...

  12. 6 Going Home & Demobilisation
    (pp. 179-202)

    Recruiting and mobilising a large army from the African colonies for war was a process spread over several years. Demobilising such a large number of men once the war had finished took nearly two years and presented serious challenges to the military and civilian authorities in London and the colonies. In mid-1945 more than 300,000 African soldiers were serving in southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Asia, as well as in Africa, and they had to be brought home, resettled and reabsorbed back into the civil life of the colonies. There were few precedents that offered practical lessons....

  13. 7 Ex-servicemen & Politics
    (pp. 203-235)

    It is widely acknowledged that the Second World War constituted a watershed in the recent history of sub-Saharan Africa and that it marked either the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end of European colonialism in Africa. By 1945 the Western European colonial states had suffered defeat or siege and declined in political and economic power. In a pyrrhic victory, they were overshadowed by the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. By the end of the war the political balance in Africa had also changed. The colonial powers were still in charge – indeed, it...

  14. 8 The Social Impact of War Service
    (pp. 236-255)

    The war years saw the largest mobilisation and movement of men within and out of Africa in modern history. Altogether more than one million men left their homes, which were mainly in rural areas, to serve in the military forces of the colonial powers. In British Africa and South Africa the total number of men enlisted was in the region of 600,000. Although war time recruitment was eventually extended beyond the traditional recruiting grounds the majority of soldiers continued to be drawn from those areas. The social and economic impact of this large and sustained process of enlistment and lengthy...

  15. Postscript
    (pp. 256-260)

    The Second World War had a profound impact on colonial Africa, signs of which were obvious to some but by no means all observers at the end of the war. By 1945 the major European colonial powers had declined in global power and status and were now overshadowed by two new superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. In fact, the war had been won by Soviet manpower and American financial and industrial power. France and Belgium, although among the ‘victors’, had suffered defeat and foreign occupation in 1940–45. Italy had rapidly lost the empire that it had...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 261-280)
  17. Index
    (pp. 281-292)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 293-293)