(In memory of my father Sunday Eke, who fought and survived the World War II in Burma)
I have kept my father's identity card of Royal West African Frontier Force. But I have forgotten everything he told me about the role he and other thousands of Nigerians played as soldiers who fought for the British Empire and the allies in World War II. I do not know if my father won the coveted Burma Star. Marshall Kebby wrote about their exploits in Burma before he passed away over a decade ago. My father never kept a diary and it was after he died on November 19, 1983, that I knew that keeping a diary like Mr. Kebby would have helped me to know more about his past life as a soldier and ambulance driver before I was born.
Every Memorial Day reminds me of my father and the other unsung African heroes of the Whiteman's war that the Blackman was forced to fight against Adolf Hitler's Germany and Japan. No war film on World War Two has ever included them, except in 2009 when the BBC News reported about a documentary that revealed that only two in 10 of the soldiers who fought in Burma were white!
The documentary was done by Robin Forestier-Walker and Oliver Owen who traced Nigerians who fought against the Japanese in Burma during World War II. The documentary was important, because only the role of Indians and Gurkhas have been publicized. Even when the Allied commander General William Slim thanked his 14th army at the end of the campaign, he deliberately ignored the Africans. But one of them remembered.
"In the year 1939 we were told King George was going to come for us in a few days to go fight in Germany against Hitler and Mussolini, so after a few days a truck came calling us.
"When it came we got in and were taken to the barracks. In the barracks we did not even know what a gun looked like let alone how to fire one. We were totally ignorant, but they still took us to the frontline."
The Historian David Killingray the author of "Fighting for Britain: African Soldiers in the Second World War" recorded that more than half a million African troops served with the British forces. "Between 1939 and 1945 -- 289,530 of them with the King's African Rifles came from Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Malawi." He said it was the largest single movement of African men overseas since the slave trade. In a 2010 CNN interview, Sgt Christopher Kagwa and his friend Masulum Museker from Uganda said:
"We were better than the British; we were beating the Germans like how you beat a goat in your garden, as well as the Italians.
"The Italians used to have small bombs that looked like cigarette paper, and white men used to go and pick it up, but for us we never picked it up. When we went there to fight we said we're going there to die, so you fight like it's your last day."
The Royal West African Frontier Force comprising the 3rd (West Africa) Brigade was detached from the 81st (West Africa) Division, and assigned to the Chindits as a garrison force for the jungle bases established by the Columns in 1943. The Brigade included the 6th, 7th & 12th Nigeria Regiments. They were all African soldiers led by British Officers and Senior NCOs, and contained Nigerians of other ranks, and Junior NCOs. Nigerians made up more than half of the total force of 90,000 West African soldiers deployed to South East Asia after 1943 as part of the British Army's 81st and 82nd (West Africa) Divisions.
I have found out that they fought with distinction with the Chindits, and caused the suicidal Japanese forces to flee as a result of their ferocity.
The others from Gambia, Sierra Leone and the Gold Coast (Ghana) were in the 81st (West Africa) Division and fought in the Arakan alongside the Essex and other Regiments.
"Everything that was meant to be used - your food, your clothes, everything - was given to you and you were required to carry it, on your head and back. Some even died from exhaustion, from travelling long distances, with a heavy load," remembered Usman Katsina, one of the survivors.
They were among the Chindit units under the command of General Orde Wingate.
He recalled that the Chindits braved the worst terrains and inclement weather to attack Japanese-held territories in Burma.
"The Japanese in the jungle were just like snakes - they hid before you could see them, it was very hard," recalled another survivor, Hassan Sokoto. Another one Umaru Yola who fought in the 4th Battalion, Nigeria Regiment was hit in the head with a piece of shrapnel that left him with a hole in his skull.
Many of the conscripted brave African Chindits were also drivers, artillerymen, engineers, medics and clerks, as well as infantrymen and carriers. The top officer positions were reserved for white expatriates from Britain and other parts of the empire, but Lieutenant Seth Anthony from the Gold Coast was the British Army's first African officer.
"Initially I saw the white man as someone better than me. But after the war, I considered him an equal," said former infantryman Dauda Kafanchan.
"We were supposed to get Long Service and British Empire Medals. But up until now - nothing, "lamented Dangombe one of the unsung heroes.
Lest we forget, one of my lost novels "The Call of the Marquis" was in memory of the Africans from the French colonies who formed the great Army of Africa of France that fought from the outbreak of World War II. In May 1940, there were 14 regiments of Zouaves, 42 regiments of Algerian, Tunisian and Moroccan tirailleurs, 12 regiments and demi-brigades of the Foreign Legion and 13 battalions of African Light Infantry who were combatants on all fronts. The Army of Africa was commanded by French general Henri Giraud and fought in the Tunisia Campaign before its merger with General de Gaulle's Free French Forces. There were over 260, 000 of them who fought and helped the Allies to liberate France from German occupation. But majority of them have passed away unsung and forgotten like the Unknown Soldier.
Lest you forget, my father fought in Burma.
Causes Chima Ekenyerengozi Supports
Citizen jourmnalism, hunan rights, Christianity