Remembering The Forgotten

The Why: Today’s post is inspired by David Olusoga’s Armistice 100 piece for The Guardian, ‘Black soldiers were expendable – then forgotten’ Find here

Today, November 11th 2018, is the centenary anniversary of the end of WW1, on November 11th 1918.

A monumental day. Why? Because it was the day when previously upright guns, which had been pointed at enemies, were positioned downward and let go of. It was the day which marked the end of enormous bloodshed and anguish. It was the day that brought with it an end to a war that should never have took place at all. For the magnitude and vastness of the war, it is fitting that the 100th anniversary of the day the world’s first truly global war ended, is remembered.

A pivotal day. Which for every November 11th in my living memory, I’ve been told  marked the beginning of peace. On the day of Armistice itself in 1918, Trafalgar Square was chock-a-block with solid crowds, people were dancing having a wonderful time, and joyfully crying out down the Strand, “the war is over”. In this modern age, we don’t look back with quite as much exuberance, but we do look back at it full of pride for those who gave their lives for Queen and country. Of course, it is important to remember those who selflessly sacrificed their today for our tomorrow.

However, this post speaks to something potentially even worse than the war itself. Today, I look back at the soldiers from Africa and Asia who were repaid “evil for good” (1 Peter 3:9) and were sorely mistreated after the war. This post speaks to the immediate amnesia that occured in the hearts and minds of everyday white people in Europe and the US after armistice was called. Long before the war ended, Germany, perhaps seeing that it’s loss was imminent, set about ‘fabricating a series of atrocity stories’ to help build the case against Britain and France’s deployment of non-white combatants. As the central powers and allied countries continued to engage in 52 months of bloodshed, theorists such as Lothrop Stoddard, an American racial commentator expressed that the white world had been weakened and previously tamed races had been partially unchained and therefore threatened the white supremist world order. He condemned the giving of guns to men of black and brown skin for this had been permission to kill the blessed white man. If this doesn’t scream, ‘Black lives DON’T matter’, then I don’t know what does, because even in war let’s perish the thought that a black person dares to defend their lowly lives against a white person.

From the everyday man to trade unions and governments, the behaviour towards non-white participants of the war was incredibly ungrateful. Their very lives would have been completely different had they lost the war against Russia, Germany and the Ottoman forces. Their lives are directly attributable to the involvement of colonial soldiers and sailors of Afro-Caribbean descent who served during the war. However, as Olusoga writes, nine race riots took place in Britain in 1919; in that same year, at least 19 African American soldiers were lynched in the US for wearing army uniforms in public; in 26 American cities, black communities were attacked and people murdered in the streets. The South Shields community of the UK, included soldiers of South Asia were victims of the first race riot in the UK. Due to these disturbances, these war veterans had to be immigrants were evacuated to their homelands. Olusoga has educated me this morning on “…the role played by the four million non-white non-Europeans who fought and laboured on the western front – and in other theatres of the war in Africa, the Middle East and Asia…” He makes it abundantly clear that all this effort has been airbrushed from popular memory.

Today’s headlines, services and appeals to remember make this crystal clear. Today I controversially say, I’m quite comfortable with mainstream media forgetting these players of darker hues because their involvement in WWI was never meant to be honourable. Their involvement was steeped in horrible racial theory of their primitivity. For example, the French had decided to deploy West Africans because they were apparently more primitive than Europeans and could, somehow, better handle the shock and pain of battle. Similar views were held by the British of the Indian men they had called to action. The black and brown people of World War 1 were ‘two-and-a-half times more likely to be killed in action than white French infantrymen’. Of course, the colonial insurgents were killed at a higher rate because their presence served to reduce the number of white deaths there otherwise would have been had Britain and France fought on their own.

Today, I don’t need the British media to just remember the African and Asian men who obeyed calls to fight for the Allied forces and the Central Powers. I need the British media to do much more than that. I call on the British government and media to condemn the European powers who fought to ensure that the hearts and minds of whites across the UK, US, the Caribbean and South Africa were hardened enough to initiate race riots as soon as the war ended. I need the British media to remember the barbaric and mentally-fragile white communities of Britain who abused war veterans of African descent and their families. I need the British media to make it abundantly clear that the end of WWI was never designed to bring about peace for all. For some, it was the beginning of ‘red summers’, murders and violent attacks of white gangs against the people like Charles Wooten, a black sailor who had served in the war, who was lynched by a Liverpudlian mob.

Let’s not forget. Let’s not forget the terrible fate of the non-white men who obediently accepted the call to defend foreign nations, in a war these men had no business in participating in. Let’s not forget the terrible racial theory of the white nations who recruited non-white soldiers and placed them on front lines and accelerated their deaths to buffer the deaths of white soldiers. Let’s not forget the terrible behaviours of white citizens who set about on killing sprees against the very people who almost gave up their lives for the freedom of those same white citizens. Let’s not forget the fragility of whiteness in its attempt to discredit the participation of non-white soldiers. Let’s not forget that if you are British, French or American, you owe your freedom to people from West Africa, India and China. Let’s not forget.

Regardless of which side they stood on, be it on the side of the Central Powers or on the side of the Allies, today, I remember the mistreated surviving soldiers from Africa (Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe) and Asia (China, India, Nepal, Vietnam) some of whom decided to live in the very countries they defended, but were met with race riots: a war of a different kind.

Lest we forget.

Let’s not forget.




Author: jacquicourtenay

Mum. Wife. Writer. Poet. Curator. City Worker

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