Forgotten: The British African Soldiers of the Second World War

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.

According to the Commonwealth Graves Commission “there are 2642 individuals in our records who died while serving with the King’s African Rifles across both world wars, and 1055 individuals who died while serving with the East African Military Labour Corps during the Second World War.”

Yet, the role of Africans has remained largely untold.

2020 sees the 75th anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day on 8 May and VJ (Victory against Japan) Day on 15 August. The victory was framed as one of freedom and democracy against oppressive, racist regimes, so it seems a good time to recognise and celebrate the heritage, contributions, and sacrifices of these African men who have remained largely forgotten in British history in particular and World history in general.

AFRICAN TROOPS IN BURMA DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (SE 1884) Troops of 11th East African Division on the road to Kalewa, Burma, during the Chindwin River crossing. Copyright: © IWM.

AN AFRICAN VILLAGER JOINS THE PIONEERS, 1944 (K 6506) Kisarishu and other men of the Pioneers in the north do not forget their homes. Here you see them reading news of their homes in the paper. Copyright: © IWM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Project will include two exhibitions at the Stevenage Museum and St Albans Cathedral and three online presentations via Zoom. The first presentation took place on the 8th October with a great turn out. the talk explored the context of the African Colonial Soldiers’ involvement in the Second World War, engaged with case studies of specific soldier’s experiences and finished with a question and answer session. The next presentations will take place November 8th 14:30-16:00 to coincide with Remembrance Sunday and November 26th 18:30-20:00. Tickets are free but essential and will be available to book soon.

KING’S AFRICAN RIFLES (Art.IWM PST 3112) image: recruiting image of an African soldier’s head, facing right, wearing a uniform fez. On both sides a decorative border of ribboning bearing names of Commonwealth countries.  © IWM.

 

The Stevenage Museum

Our exhibition at The Stevenage Museum opened on the 19th September for pre-booked visits and more information can be found here. Recently, Creative Director Ademola Adeniji filmed a virtual tour of the exhibition to be released soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The St Albans Cathedral

The exhibition at St Albans opened to the public on the 1st October 2020 more details can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the 13th of October Learning Through the Arts hosted a school trip for year five and six classes from How Wood school. the pupils had a guided tour of the exhibition where they were set a fact finding mission to encourage engagement. They were then given a talk by Learning Through the Art’s Creative Director Ademola Adeniji providing extra context to the content of the exhibition. Finally, they took part in a postcard writing exercise to reflect on what they had learnt.