It is often thought that World War One was a European War, fought exclusively by Europeans. Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite this, the mainstream media makes little effort to acknowledge the contributions of Non-Europeans in WW1. There were lots of Black and Asian soldiers in WW1.
How Black Soldiers Became Involved in WW1
Before to WW1 began, Britain & France had colonies in the Caribbean, Africa & Asia, as well as many other places around the world. Germany also had colonies in Africa. Turkey was involved in WW1 and the Turkish troops contained an African and a Muslim contingent.
The British Caribbean
After centuries of slavery people in the British Caribbean were relishing their freedom. Though many took pride in their loyalty to the “Mother Country”.
When WW1 began. West Indians donated large sums of money to aid the war effort. They also volunteered to fight for Britain, joining The British West India Regiment.
By the end of the WW1 over 15,500 West Indians had joined the BWIR and had experienced military service in England, Italy, Egypt, India, France, Belgium, Palestine, Mesopotamia (Iraq) and East Africa.
Africans in The French Army
Like Britain, France was a major colonial power. France gathered troops from all over “Francophone Africa”, (French colonies in Africa). France also had Colonies in South-East Asia. Some of the most decorated African soldiers serving in the French Army were the Tirailleurs Senegalais.
The German troops nicknamed the Tirailleurs Senegalais ‘Black devils’. they earned this nickname, when fighting like demons, they had forced the Kaiser’s elite troops to retreat before them.
African American Troops
America was a racially segregated society. Yet African Americans still served in the U.S armed forces.
When the United States declared war against Germany in April 1917, The U.S War Department realised that they desperately needed more men to ensure victory. The decision was made to allow African Americans to sign up. In some states, African Americans were forced to sign up and even fraudulently arrested as draft dodgers.
By the end of World War I, African Americans served in Cavalry, Infantry, Signal, medical, engineer, and artillery units, as well as serving as Chaplains, surveyors, truck drivers, chemists, and intelligence officers.
African Americans also served in French units
The 369th Infantry – “THE HARLEM HELL FIGHTERS”, became one of the most decorated units in WW1 W. Their unit was under the command of the French Military. Eugene Bullard was a highly decorated African-American Pilot in the French Flying corps. He was one of only two black combat pilots in the first world war.
Black Soldiers in The British Army
Although little is known of Black Britons in the British army. We do have some evidence to show that Black Britons served in WW1 in the Army and Navy.
Former Tottenham Hotspur Player Walter Tull , (Above) is the most celebrated black British soldier who achieved the rank of Lieutenant.
These photos show several black and mixed race soldiers serving in the British Army in WW1. Stephen Bourne’s book – ‘Black Poppies‘ provides valuable insight into the lives of black soldiers in the British forces.
A detailed look at the life of Arthur Roberts a Black Brit who served in the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, during WW1, can be found in the book, ‘As good As Any Man‘,
Asian Troops in WW1
As well as Africans and Caribbean soldiers, there were also Asian soldiers fighting in WW1. India sent over 1 million men to aid the War effort. At that time, India included Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh & Sri Lanka. Soldiers were from many ethnic backgrounds such as Pathans, Sikhs, Muslims & Hindus all served. The photo here shows Gurkhas from Nepal.
Africans in The German Army
Little is known about how many of Germany’s Pre WW1 war black population served in the armed forces. Some Afro-German men did serve in WW1.
Remember that WW1 was not just fought in Europe. There were theatres of war in Africa and Asia, as well as at Sea.
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Video – African Soldiers in the First World War
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