World Wars: As Britain remembers her war heroes, The old Empire & Commonwealth cannot forget their dead – Tola Adenle

November 12, 2014

Africa, Europe

Being born soon after the end of World War II in Nigeria means that I must have relations or know men who fought on the side of the British in Burma and other European misadventures in World War I and II. It must be the same with people the same age group with me across West and East Africa: Ghana, Uganda, Kenya and French West Africa.

Watching the remembrance ceremonies in the U.K. and France on television and reading same in newspapers this past week especially the pageantry in England – and my, the people do really know how to put up spectacular shows – has been more than food for thought.

There were old soldiers who may no longer be able to muster the strength to stand that well but who still cut fine figures in their uniforms and salutes. There were wreaths laid at the Cenotaph in London; there were millions of poppies – we once had to buy paper ones in Nigeria when I was a school girl and knew not what they really stood for – this time made in ceramic which dazzled as well as made the heart skip a beat in the sheer magnificence of arrangement in downtown London, yes, even those like me who had our own people in mind rather than any razzmatazz.

Despite a friend who believes I just must go and see with my eyes because she knows I would love the display, I just cannot go although I could not tell her my real reason; excuses were all I could give.

And, of course, there was the Queen leading the whole performance with her well-known calm and dignity.

In all, it was Britain, standing tall and alone; Britain, remembering how she fought alone to subdue her enemies, including France, but old enemies are now friends, including Germany, in a common Euro-centered perspective of the world. It was the small island which, through the sheer strength and valor of her British heroes, won The War that has failed to end all wars and live up to the promise of the earlier war that was supposed to do THAT.

There were no roll calls of HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of Ghanaians, Nigerians and other West Africans who were crucial in helping win the War, nor am I aware of any of the names of those gallant men who lost their lives in the various war theaters in India, South Africa … being among those immortalized in the glittering memorial in England; pardon me, Britain.

In the little corner of Nigeria where I was born, there were at least three men – all now late – that I knew who went to war for Britain. Of those gallant men, Aba Fatuyi, a friend’s dad, was the closest I knew. He would tell stories of Ogun Burma – The “Burma War” and the things they all experienced during the war. Aba Fatuyi had little formal education but his memories were always sharp and vivid, and he never failed to amuse us the way he would throw in a lot of war lingo. We were so young we thought the old man was just being funny.

Such men were many in the Nigeria of my youth, including men who were in World War I doing deadly, thankless job in support of the British.

Today, those lucky to return alive are all long dead – at least in my town – buried in different parts of Nigeria, forgotten, unsung and unaccounted for in the glory that the British now celebrate as if they did it all on their own even though my friend’s father used to describe the job that some of them did handling deadly ordinances and explosive materials.

For many, it would be a tough life because they came back no longer able to do farm work, the main means of earning a livelihood in a rural community, or would they go into any of the trades because they were too old to do that and many came back physically unable. The British dumped and abandoned them all the same.

When I attended an interview at the Myohaung Barracks for a teaching position in 1966, I thought ‘myohaung’ was a Calabar word! In Nigeria today, there is still the Myohaung Military Barracks at Yaba, Lagos State just as there is a Myohaung Barracks in Ghana, a name that will forever be remembered by the armed forces of Ghana and Nigeria, a name that represents great success in the annals of British involvement through the Royal West African Frontier Force in World War II at Myohaung, East Asia.

Many colonies, including Nigeria also contributed to the so-called “war effort” beyond men. Nigeria’s rubber, a plant greatly encouraged by the British colonial master playing a large role in the war while Ghana’s mineral (bauxite) contributed to plane manufacture, and, the last but by no means were our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean who, through the West Indies were supposedly forced to contribute 60 million pounds to the “war effort” apart from men who also fought in the war.

Imagine the value of 60 million pounds in today’s currency!

NOVEMBER 11, 2014. 1:05 a.m. [GMT]

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2 Comments on “World Wars: As Britain remembers her war heroes, The old Empire & Commonwealth cannot forget their dead – Tola Adenle”

  1. folakemiodoaje Says:

    Thank you so much for this piece. There is so much that lots of us do not know about our involvement during the WW 1 & 2.

    Although I do not know anyone who has direct links with our soldiers who fought at the war but I first learnt about WWs from my mother saying “laye ogun Hitila!” [During Hitler’s War]; from there she would go on and on as something very important that I needed to pay attention to.

    To my shame now, I don’t remember a thing from what she said. I will speak to my mother today actually to see if she still remembers. My mother has no formal education but has incredible memory, usually triggered by current events. She was born before the WW 2 and I know a few of her brothers were in the army; oh dear!

    Lots of our history are not documented and the ones that were, are not made available so facts like this are buried under piles or maybe I was not looking in the right places.

    I really do hope lots of our people read this and any information they can find on our people’s participation in wars on behalf of colonial powers like Great Britain and France; it is very important, I think.



    • emotanglobal Says:

      Dear Fola,

      Thanks for this.

      You must speak to your mom right away because it is unlikely that there were communities in our part of Nigeria that were not touched by the conscription into the Nigerian Regiment that fought alongside others for the British.

      Of course your mom will still remember because lack of education would play little role in this, esp. if she had relations/town’s people who fought in either War. Considering that yours was a mostly Christian big town, she must have some informal education through the church that enabled our uneducated people in the past to read the Bible, Hymnals, et cetera.

      The British owes tons of gratitude – and more – to the Colonies, esp. descendants of men who fought in the Wars.

      By the way, Oju mi ri ni India is a book I’ve tried to find in small bookshops at Ibadan but have failed to do, and I’m using this opportunity – again as I did several months ago – to put the word out. “What my eyes saw in India”/My memories of the War in the Indian subcontinent is a book about a Yoruba man’s experience during World War II.

      Please share with us whatever information you are able to gather from your mom.

      My regards,

      Liked by 1 person


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