Autumn 2017 edition - page 16-17

This line, taken from the fourth stanza of
Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘For the Fallen’ has be-
come inextricably linked with Remembrance Sun-
day. Despite being composed on reflection over the
casualties from the British Expeditionary Forces
in the first few months of the war, it is now often
recited in reference to all those who have died in
conflict.Yet even a century on we still fail to pay
even the smallest tribute we can to the millions of
(particularly non-white) colonial troops, who were
just as much a part of the FirstWorldWar and who
we repeatedly, consistently overlook and fail to
Even before the war began the colonies
were a part of European conflict. Imperialism,
which played a large role in causing and shaping
the war, inevitably dragged them in once it started.
The so-called ‘Scramble for Africa’ in the period
between 1881 and 1914, in which European nations
competed to colonise Africa was a major cause of
the underlying hostility between European nations
in 1914. There are various events that mark the
increasing hostility, such as the Berlin Conference
of 1885. In Berlin, following recent German expe-
ditions to Africa, European nations met to define
territorial holdings and regulate colonisation. The
competition for colonies, driven by nationalism and
a desire for resources, captive markets and power
status, forged the alliances that dragged Europe
into war in 1914. While mutual desire for imperial
expansion drove Germany, Italy and Austria-Hun-
gary into the Triple Alliance in 1882, Britain ended
its longstanding competitive imperial hostility with
France to ally with them and Russia in the Triple
Entente, due to fears of changes to their empires
that arose with Germany’s increasing interest in
expansion. The result of this ‘scramble’ was that, by
1914, all of Africa, with the exception of only Abys-
sinia (modern day Ethiopia) and Liberia, was under
colonial rule. Even before it began, The FirstWorld
War was undeniably linked to the colonies in Africa
and Asia, and therefore it is an oversight to ignore
the impact theWorldWar had on these colonies
when it started.
‘A war in Europe…must necessarily set the
whole world ablaze’ were the ominous words of
German author F.H. Grautoff – and, as predicted,
when war was declared in Europe war broke out all
over Africa between Allied and German colonies.
One example out of many was in German occupied
Cameroon; Belgian, French and English troops
invaded from neighbouring colonies, the fighting
lasted fromAugust 1914 until March 1916, resulting
in an Allied victory and official casualties and losses
totaling almost 7,000, the vast majority of whom
were African or Indian. The ‘AfricanTheatre’ of con-
flict inWorldWar I was extensive and would require
innumerable articles to detail and assess fully, yet
the lack of prominence and recognition for those
who took part in campaigns such as that in Cam-
eroon, the Band of Oases, that against the Sanussi
and inTogoland, to name a few in Africa alone,
highlights how Eurocentric our commemoration of
the FirstWorldWar still is.
However, even on familiar battlefields like
the Somme and Gallipoli, millions of colonial troops
go largely unrecognised, despite the fact that the
presence of non-white soldiers was a hugely sig-
nificant step for nations in Europe at the time, and
can serve as an insight into how European powers
viewed their colonial subjects. The presence of Brit-
ain's Indian Expeditionary Forces and France's Sen-
egaleseTirailleurs marked a strange sort of turn-
ing point in colonial
history, as it was the
first time non-white
soldiers were being
employed against a
white enemy. It was thought that if their colonial
subjects were encouraged to fight one white enemy
it would not be long before they armed themselves
against their white colonial masters. For example,
It was for this reason that Britain had not used its
large Indian army in the Second BoerWar. The
Times History ofWar wrote in 1914 that ‘the instinct
which made us such sticklers for propriety in all our
dealings made us more reluctant than other na-
tions would feel to employ coloured troops against
a white enemy’ – suggesting that it was contrary to
some sort of noble ‘principles’ that a black person
should be encouraged to fight a white. However
when the British Expeditionary Force suffered
the huge losses in the opening months of the war
At The Going Down Of The Sun And In The Morning,
We Will Remember Them
‘A war in Europe…must
necessarily set the
whole world ablaze’
that Binyon immortalized in the aforementioned
poem, the British felt the risk posed by Germany
outweighed the risk of revolt and therefore justified
abandoning these ‘principles’ of worth. Similarly,
the French were in crisis after losing a third of their
army in just 5 months and felt it warranted calling
on their colonies. The troops now arriving on the
Western Front would be battling not only on the
front itself but also against the hostility of those
who felt it was still not appropriate for them to be
there at all. Many troops arrived in villages that had
never encountered anyone of a non-white ethnic-
ity. These troops were infantilized in propaganda
and taught only the basics of the language in a form
of pidgin French that hindered them in expression
and integration into the communities they were
stationed in, contributing to the appalling European
attitude that these soldiers were 'barbarian'. This
can be seen in the 1915 French ‘Banania’ chocolate
cereal adverts, which depict a smiling Senagalese
infantry man and the caption: ‘y’a bon’ – derived
from this pidgin French. It exemplifies the French
view of these soldiers: as smiley, simple warriors
useful only for war and advertising.
The European nations that utilized these
troops had an attitude that is shocking and yet
familiar: they saw their subjects abroad as human
resources, manpower for the war threatening the
empires they came from; who would be able to
fight and die for the continuance of the empires
that owned them.
The qualms that the British and French had
about using non-white soldiers were not entirely
abandoned, however. Theories of race abounded
in the early 20th century, especially with regards to
martial utility. The Indian corps that landed at Mar-
seilles in 1914, who hadn’t even been told where
they were going until they arrived in France, and
were divided into regiments based on race, for ex-
ample the 6th Jats. Only certain races were thought
to belong to the ‘martial races’ and these were
primarily those in the Indian army. The martial races
theory further adds to our understanding of colonial
attitudes and race relations, as it exemplifies the
objectification of colonial subjects. The theory was
based on the idea that certain ethnic groups were
better suited to conflict, because they were accus-
tomed to hunting. However, the theory worked well
for the British in other ways: various historians such
as Richard Schultz have pointed out that it played
on pre-existing loyalties to one’s group in Asia to
divide the people of India and prevent any united
rebellion against the British colonial government.
Moreover, some historians, like Jeffrey Greenhut
have said that ‘Indians who were intelligent and
educated were defined as cowards, while those
defined as brave were uneducated and backward’.
This further prevented uprising by inciting pride
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