WW1 Centenary

Great War Centenary 2014-2018 website by Paul Reed


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Book Review: Black Tommies

The story of Black Afro-Caribbean soldiers in the Great War is an often neglected aspect of the conflict: many people know about Walter Tull the professional footballer who became an officer in 1917, but Tull was one of thousands of Black men who served in Khaki.

40914_originalA new book by Ray Costillo helps bridge this gap in our knowledge: Black Tommies: British Soldiers of African Descent in the First World War (Liverpool University Press 2015, ISBN 978 1 78138 019 2, 216pp, paperback, £14.99). The book examines the general subject of Black soldiers in the British Army and the Black presence in Britain in 1914. It then moves on to look at the volunteers who joined in 1914, how conscription affected the Black community, and the wider aspect of the use of Black men in Commonwealth armies during the conflict. The book rightly states that Black soldiers in the British Army was nothing new: Black men had fought at the Battle of Waterloo for example, but it had been forgotten by 1914 and the soldiers who entered the army during WW1 faced a wide range of prejudice and misconception. Walter Tull features in the book but it rightly points out that despite popular belief he was far from the only Black officer, and not even the first. This is a well researched and written title on a forgotten part of the Great War and is highly recommended.


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Forgotten Heroes: North Africans in the Great War

A new website has been launched to highlight the role of North Africans in the Great War. Men from every part of North Africa fought in the conflict either in units of the British or French Armies. Among them were Egyptians in the Egyptian Labour Corps in the British sector and combat troops recruited in Algerian, Morocco and Senegal among many others.

The site is also a portal to a foundation which aims to send a ehibition highlighting the role of these men around the world. The site explains:

“Visitors to the Menin Gate in Ypres are often surprised to find the names of Muslim soldiers who died on the Western Front. The contributions and sacrifices of soldiers and workers from North Africa to the Great War have not been given the recognition which they are due. Colonial subjects worked, fought, were captured and died in their thousands between 1914 and 1918.

This is the first international exhibition to pay tribute to the citizens of North Africa who served in the Western Front. The men of North Africa, Berbers and Arabs alike, had no stake in the European war that erupted in August 1914.

Each North African country had a history of resistance to foreign rule.
It is a cruel irony of the Great War that colonial subjects were asked to serve their colonial rulers in a war not of their making.

Whatever their misgivings about fighting for France, the North African soldiers fought with courage and distinction by all accounts and played a decisive role in the ultimate Entente victory over Germany. During the war, North African loyalties were tested as the German government sought to turn Muslim prisoners of war to propaganda advantage.

The Great War also introduced North Africans to the European labour market, a trend that would develop over ensuing decades as workers from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia crossed the Mediterranean in search of gainful employment.

Over the years, many North Africans became naturalized citizens of Europe, where they are now in their third and fourth generation as European citizens. This exhibition is also intended to celebrate Europe’s citizens of North African origins and the contributions they have made to Europe in the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries.”

The site can be found here:- Forgotten Heroes: North Africa and The Great War.