Compiled by S. Davis & J. Adams – Contributions to WWI & II
Africa’s contribution to the war was outstanding in that:
A number of major battles took place on the African continent.
Colonial Africa provided a fighting force of over half a million soldiers, hundreds of thousands more were engaged in this large continents’ naval, armoured and air force units.
In Somaliland (Somalia) and Abyssinia (Ethiopia) Colonial Africa troops along with personnel from India, came up against the very best Italian fighting Battalions and defeated them.
All over the Empire war time shortages were normal, Africa was the exception. It was the only region in the world that supplied a surplus of food and raw materials on an unprecedented scale for both the military and civilian population alike.
Goods such as: agricultural products and machinery; armaments; manufactured goods; cotton; sisal (used for making rope and twine); timber; rubber; minerals and precious metals, such as coal, copper, tin, diamonds and gold.
Her surpluses were exported to other parts of the colonial Empire where there were acute shortages.
African Chiefs and Kings were also vital in the part they played in encouraging various tribes’ people to fight for the Empire.
A fact that is often over looked is, whilst the people of Britain were conscripted, (war service was made compulsory), and there was forced labour in some parts of the Empire; the vast majority of those who gave their service to the war effort from the Empire/Commonwealth countries, were volunteers.
As well as fighting on African soil, colonial African servicemen were deployed in Burma, Sri Lanka, Madagascar and Palestine.
Hardships: due to the fact that all the labour force was geared specifically towards the war effort and export, the people were unable to tend to their own plots of land; as a result, there was a shortage of food.
In it’s regular commentary and up-date on the war efforts around the empire, on Saturday 13th January 1940, The Times newspaper wrote:
…The contributions from the African Colonies are remarkable as any, for they are made by rulers and races who are considered to be among the more backwards of mankind, and yet they show the same …understanding of the issue as… those of the Asian and American continents.
Showing how these people of ‘basic understanding’ debated the issue of war the following was reported:
On the Gold Coast local chiefs put forward the case for Britain and that for Germany. At the close of the debate the judgment was in favour of King George and Britain. The head chief declared, ‘if the worst comes to the worst, he would take off his sandals and walk barefooted side by side with British soldiers right into the firing line’.
East Africa – Supporting the war effort, this man is hard at work in mechanical workshop.
Image at the top of the page: Radio operator of the Royal West African Field Force