Tag Archive | "WW1"

Black History Month – Why we still need it

by P Gregory: Owner Editor of the Black Presence Website.

So, Black History Month 2010 is upon us, and as I sit here and take a breather after working hard to get the website to a state of readiness, I wonder how long it will be before the mud starts flying?

Black History Month, is at best controversial in Britain for a number of reasons. There are those on the right of the political spectrum, who believe that it is “Racist and Divisive” .   They say that Black History Month smacks of hypocrisy, when white organisations are not afforded the same courtesy.

They believe, that to celebrate Black History exclusively, is to separate black people from the rest of the population, and that ultimately leads to deeper division.

Then,  we have those on the left of politics, who believe that Black History Month is absolutely essential. That Black people have been oppressed for far too long and that the creation of a dedicated month, of events and seminars, creation of websites, informative newsletters and media programming, empowers black people to re-connect with their lost and hidden heritage. They believe that the removal or cessation of such an event would be racist in the extreme, and an attack on the civil liberties of black people.

So where is the middle ground?

Before we get into the rights and wrongs of whether Black History Month should even exist, allow me to make some observations.

I approach the whole subject with the observation that Black History Month EXISTS.   It existed in America first, and it exists now in Britain and has since the mid Eighties, although few people would really know it. The very fact that it exists, suggests to me that any person of African/Caribbean origin, who has any depth of character, will have been involved in some way.

  • If there are seminars, information or exhibitions available to you, that will help you increase knowledge of self and national identity, then why not go along?
  • Why not increase your knowledge about history?
  • Why not contextualise your own life in the history of not just your own ethnic group, but in the world community?

Anyone who rejects this idea, simply because they feel uninterested, is in my opinion, cutting their nose to spite their face. Refusing to learn because you don’t like the subject matter is the tactic of a child.

For those who exhibit at, and organise events during Black History Month, not only is it a perfect time, to reach out to your own demographic and beyond, offering  information about your services and products, it is also a fantastic networking opportunity.

Businesses who ignore Black History Month, are simply sleeping. Regardless of your ethnicity, this is a time of economic hardship, and events that bring people together en-masse bring with them an opportunity for businesses to sell, make money and to form strong community links.

My feelings regarding the morality of Black History Month are that the idea behind Black History Month is not racist.

Sure,  mostly Black people tend to be featured, but one has to ask oneself, ” why this is”?

It is simply because many of the personalities highlighted during Black History Month are conspicuous by their absence in mainstream accepted history.

A good example is the wholesale exclusion of Black contribution to the defence of the realm during Two World Wars.

When learning about WW1, Individual stories are rarely focused on.   Figures like Walter Tull go un-noticed. What was special about him, critics would say. Well, he was special.   He was the only Black Commissioned Officer in the British Army at that time. This was due to a rule forbidding non whites from leading White troops. Nevertheless he managed to rise from the rank of Private soldier to Lieutenant in just 2 years.

French Colonial Troops

French Colonial Troops

During and after the First World War the use by France of African Troops to occupy the German Rhineland is rarely mentioned, even though there is a lot of documentary evidence.

Little is made of their contribution, or the treatment they faced by the Germans if they were captured. Even less is told of the racist propaganda they had to endure whilst they were doing their duty overseas. Even the British Press printed stories of the “Black Horror on the Rhine“, siding with the very people who had recently been Britain’s enemy, making accusations based on hearsay and racial prejudice.

Jonny Smythe

Jonny Smythe

During World War 2, The Royal Airforce is widely credited with saving Britain from invasion by thwarting the Luftwaffe’s attempts to crush British spirit and achieve total air superiority.

It is often mentioned that Polish, and Canadians served in the Royal Airforce during WW2, but the Indians and Caribbean Airmen and Women hardly ever get a mention.  In fact, recently I saw a glossy magazine commemorating, the Battle of Britain, not one Black or Asian Airman was featured or even mentioned.

Perhaps the publishers didn’t know of their involvement? Perhaps they did, but chose to omit them, if so why?
Surely if Black and Asian shoppers felt more of a connection with the events of WW2,  then they might spend their hard earned cash on that product?

Until as recently as 1997,  Caribbean Troops who served in both Wars weren’t even invited to the Cenotaph to commemorate the War Dead. All this amounts to a white washing of history, and one could be forgiven for thinking that black people, simply didn’t participate in either world War. Today there are so few old comrades left, that without a concerted effort to insert their efforts into the public consciousness, who would ever know of their efforts?

Of course, there are countless examples of Black Britons I could use to illustrate this point but the loss of Black history and Black contribution to British History in general is lamentable indeed. Not just for Black people, but for all Britons regardless of colour . It is important that as British citizens we have a detailed historical record of our past. The Internet now provides new ways to locate, present and access that information, not just to each other, but to the whole world.

Until the above examples and countless others find their way into the majority of history reports, the school curriculum and publications, then Black History Month will always be needed, because without it, we simple aren’t getting the full picture.

Related Links

Walter Tull

Caribbean Aircrew in WW2

Memorial Gates- We Also Served

Senegalese Tirailleurs

BBC Radi4 – Black History month the Usual Suspects

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Walters War – part 1

Warning: Some of this content may not be suitable for younger viewers.

Brilliant Drama about Walter Tull, the first black officer in the British army who was also the first black footballer to score a goal in british football. Starring the talented O-T Fagbenle and written by award winner Kwame Kwei Armah

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African Prisoner of War WW1

African Prisoner of War in World War One“Die Farbiger”, originally uploaded by drakegoodman.

An African French soldier (Troupes de Marine), most likely Senegalese is singled out to have his photograph taken with a Uhlan NCO and military official. Many of the Senegalese and other colonial troops were in the Troupes de Marine and were reported to have fought with incredible valour and great sacrifice.

Uploaded by drakegoodman on 15 Jan 10, 11.49AM BST.

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Three French Prisoners of War


Three French Prisoners of War

Africans in WW1

Three French Prisonniers de Guerre / Landwehr Inftr Regt Nr 120, originally uploaded by drakegoodman.

Three French Prisonniers de Guerre / Landwehr Inftr Regt Nr 120

Letter on reverse (below) with admin stamp from Landwehr-Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 120 and postage cancelled 8.6.1918 at an unspecified location.

Three French Prisonniers de Guerre, two of whom are Senegalese ‘colonials’.

In late 1915 the prisoners’ hardship and suffering prompted the French government to issue protests through neutral countries and threaten reprisals against German prisoners. Germany responded by cutting the Allied prisoners’ food rations, reducing their mail and sending some to harsher special camps in Lithuania.

By 1916 some 300,000 Frenchmen were in captivity. Most, except officers, were forced to do agricultural or factory labour. Over 30,000 worked in the Krupp factories in Essen. Exhausting conditions, brutality and insufficient food often proved lethal.

French prisoners in Turkey and Bulgaria endured similar hardships. In 1915-1916 the embassies of the United States and, later, the Netherlands, joined their efforts to help Frenchmen interned in the Ottoman Empire.

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The Massacre of the Senegalese WW1 1914

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A wounded Senegalese prisoner of war is carried to a bandaging station, November 1914

A wounded Senegalese prisoner of war is carried to a bandaging station, November 1914

Note on reverse (see below) dated 28.11.1914. One of a series of pictures taken by a German orderly at a first-aid station located in Etterbeek (one of the nineteen municipalities located in the Brussels-Capital Region of Belgium).

In WW1 many of the Senagalese and other colonial troops fought with incredible valour and great sacrifice. Here is an account I discovered a while back whilst looking for some material to caption this picture:


In the morning of 16th April 1917, more than 15,000 Senegalese Infantrymen launched an assault on the ridges above the Chemin des Dames. Paralysed by the biting cold, they were mown down by the German machine guns which should have been destroyed during the days of shelling that had preceded the attack. In one day 16th April more than 1,400 ‘Senegalese’ died in the conquest of the Mont des Singes, to save the farms of Moisy and Hurtebise and on the hillsides of Ailles.

Those men we call the ‘Senegalese Infantrymen’ who fought in the 14-18 war were in fact from all of the countries that were former French occidental colonies, i.e. Senegal, The Ivory Coast, Benin, Guinea, Mali, Burkina-Faso, Niger and Mauritania. Most of these territories had been under French colonial rule for less than 30 years. The conquest of Dahomey (now Benin) goes back to 1892-1893 for example. With a few rare exceptions, these men from the African continent who came to defend the Republic of France had no civil rights and most could hardly speak any French.

1917 was the year which saw a massive influx of Senegalese Infantrymen. The enormous losses since 1914 made the intervention of the colonials from Occidental French Africa indispensable. More than 50,000 were recruited in 1915-1916, often unceremoniously, and at a price of thousands of deaths and hundreds of villages raised to the ground, in particular in what is now known as Burkina Faso. This provoked what historian Marc Michel has called the ‘greatest colonial revolution in French Black Africa.

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WW1 – Campaign in German East Africa.



German East Africa, campaign in (1914-18). In 1914 Germany possessed four colonies in sub-Saharan Africa: Togoland, Cameroons, South-West Africa (now Namibia), and East Africa (now Tanzania). The fight for the fourth of these has most captured the public imagination. The last German troops did not surrender until two weeks after the Armistice in Europe, on 25 November 1918. Their commander, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, became a German hero, the symbol of an army that deemed itself undefeated in the field. By the 1960s he had acquired another reputation, that of guerrilla leader. Neither interpretation can be fully sustained.

The German colonial troops, the Schutztruppen, were equipped and trained only for internal policing duties, but Lettow-Vorbeck, appointed through the influence of the German general staff, aimed to contribute to the main struggle in the event of war in Europe by drawing British forces away from their principal theatres and sought battle rather than shunned it. However, his isolation from Germany meant that neither trained European soldiers nor stocks of munitions were easily replaced. After the battle of Mahiwa, which Lettow-Vorbeck began on 15 October 1917, the Germans had exhausted all their smokeless cartridges and had to abandon German territory for Portuguese in the search for ammunition.

British strategy in Africa was much more limited. On 5 August 1914 a subcommittee of the Committee of Imperial Defence decided that the principal objectives were to eliminate Germany’s wireless stations and to deprive its navy of bases. Heinrich Schnee, the governor of German East Africa, anxious to protect the fruits of German colonialism, effectively co-operated in the achievement of both these objectives. The principal German cruiser in the region, SMS Konigsberg, was unable to enter Dar es Salaam, and took refuge in the delta of the Rufiji river, where she was eventually located and sunk on 11 July 1915. The British colonial office lacked the troops to do much more, and it therefore called on the Indian army. Indian Expeditionary Force B, principally made up of second-line units, landed at German East Africa’s second major port, Tanga, on 2 November 1914. Lettow-Vorbeck had concentrated his forces to the north, with a view to launching an attack into British East Africa, but was still able to redeploy and inflict a humiliating defeat on the British. The latter, hamstrung by overlapping administrative authorities and now deprived of any faith in the available Indian troops, did nothing in 1915. The Germans raided the Uganda railway.

The campaign was reactivated in March 1916 with the arrival of South African reinforcements under J. C. Smuts. Like the Indians, the South Africans were not easily deployable to the western front, and to that extent Lettow-Vorbeck’s strategy was not working. However, Smuts’s aims were much more extensive than those of London. He wished to conquer the entire German colony and then to trade territory with Portugal, so as to extend South Africa’s frontier into Mozambique at least as far as the Zambezi. He therefore invaded German East Africa from the north, cutting across the axes of the two principal railway lines and neglecting the harbours on the coast. He had earned his military reputation as the leader of a Boer commando and conducted his campaign as though his mounted rifles could move as fast through regions infested with tsetse fly as across the veld. He accorded little recognition to the difference between rainy seasons and dry. His advance, although rapid, failed ever to grip and defeat the German forces. His troops entered Dar es Salaam on 3 September 1916, and were astride the Central railway, running from there to Tabora and Lake Tanganyika. Smuts should have paused but he did not, plunging on to the Rufiji river, and claiming that the campaign was all but over when in reality it had stalled.

Gunnery Team

Gunnery Team

Worrying for Smuts were Belgian territorial ambitions in the west. Debouching from the Congo into Ruanda and Urundi, the Belgians had reached Tabora in August 1916. Smuts’s sub-imperialism was challenged even more fundamentally by the contribution of blacks to the campaign. The Schutztruppen, although officered by Europeans, were predominantly native Africans, and yet they had proved formidable opponents for the whites. On the British side the South Africans were particularly susceptible to malaria, and by early 1917 they were being replaced in the British order of battle by the black units of the West African Frontier Force and the King’s African Rifles. Moreover, the collapse of animal transport meant that supply was largely dependent on human resources; the British ended up recruiting over a million labourers for the campaign. The long-term impact for Africa?in the development of the cash economy, in the penetration of colonial rule into areas hitherto unmapped, and in the erosion of chiefly or tribal authority?was immense.

Smuts was recalled to London in January 1917, and handed over his command to A. R. Hoskins. Hoskins set about remedying the worst of the health, transport, and supply problems, but in doing so aroused impatience in the War Cabinet in London which could not understand why a campaign which Smuts had said was over was still continuing to drain Allied shipping. (This was one area in which Lettow-Vorbeck most nearly fulfilled his overall strategy.) In April Hoskins was replaced by J. L. van Deventer, another Afrikaaner, who implemented Hoskins’s plan but still failed to prevent the rump of the Germans from escaping into Portuguese East Africa in November. For the next year, Lettow-Vorbeck’s columns marched through Portuguese territory, fighting largely to secure supplies and munitions. The Allies still had a ration strength of 111, 371 in the theatre at the war’s end.

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Facebook Petition for awarding Walter Tull a Posthumous Military Cross

Walter Tull


An MP has begun campaigning for the Military Cross to be awarded posthumously to a former Northampton Town footballer killed in World War I.

Walter Tull, the first black infantry officer in the British Army, was mentioned in dispatches for “gallantry and coolness” on the Italian Front.

He died in action in 1918, but because his family was from outside Britain, he was not entitled to a military award.

Northampton South MP Brian Binley said it was an injustice he was not praised.

The MP has tabled a Commons motion saying: “This House remembers Walter Tull for his contribution to British sport as a professional footballer for Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town football clubs.

Spurs player

“It also notes that his commanding officer mentioned him in despatches for his ‘gallantry and coolness’ on the Italian Front and recommended him for a Military Cross.

“It regrets that he was not awarded the cross because, as a British citizen of non-European descent, he should not have been commissioned at all.”

The motion calls upon the government to right this “sizeable injustice by posthumously awarding him the Military Cross for his gallantry”.

Mr Tull had previously played for Tottenham Hotspur where he was the first black player in football’s top flight.

The footballer, who was born in Folkestone, Kent, in 1888, was the first black person to be made a British combat officer in 1917.

Walter Tull

Tull Family

Tull Family

Walter Tull was born in Folkestone on 28th April 1888. His father was a carpenter from Barbados who had moved to Folkestone and married a local woman. By the age of nine, Walter had lost both his parents, and when he was 10 he and his brother Edward were sent to a Methodist orphanage in Bethnal Green. His brother left the orphanage two years later, was adopted by a Scottish family and became a dentist. Meanwhile, Walter played for the orphanage football team, and in 1908, began playing for Clapton FC. Within a few months he had won winners’ medals in the FA Amateur Cup, London County Amateur Cup and London Senior Cup. In March 1909 the Football Star called him ‘the catch of the season’.

In 1909 he signed as a professional for Tottenham Hotspur, and experienced for the first time spectator racism when Spurs travelled to play Bristol City. According to one observer, ‘a section of the spectators made a cowardly attack on him in language lower than Billingsgate.’ The correspondent continued:

“Let me tell those Bristol hooligans that Tull is so clean in mind and method as to be a model for all white men who play football whether they be amateur or professional. In point of ability, if not actual achievement, Tull was the best forward on the field”

In October 1911 Tull moved to Northampton Town where he played half-back and scored nine goals in 110 senior appearances. When the First World War broke out, be became the first Northampton player to sign up to join the 17th (1st Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, and in November 1915 his battalion arrived in France.

The Army soon recognised Tull’s leadership qualities and he was quickly promoted to the rank of sergeant. In July 1916, Tull took part in the major Somme offensive. Tull survived this experience but in December 1916 he developed trench fever and was sent home to England to recover.

Tull had impressed his senior officers and recommended that he should be considered for further promotion. When he recovered from his illness, instead of being sent back to France, he went to the officer training school at Gailes in Scotland. Despite military regulations forbidding “any negro or person of colour” being an officer, Tull received his commission in May, 1917.

Lieutenant Walter Tull was sent to the Italian front. This was an historic occasion because Tull was the first ever black officer in the British Army. He led his men at the Battle of Piave and was mentioned in dispatches for his “gallantry and coolness” under fire.

Tull stayed in Italy until 1918 when he was transferred to France to take part in the attempt to break through the German lines on the Western Front. On 25th March, 1918, 2nd Lieutenant Tull was ordered to lead his men on an attack on the German trenches at Favreuil. Soon after entering No Mans Land, Tull was hit by a German bullet. Tull was such a popular officer that several of his men made valiant efforts under heavy fire from German machine-guns to bring him back to the British trenches. These efforts were in vain as Tull had died soon after being hit. He was awarded the British War and Victory Medal and recommended for a Military Cross.  Telegram He was the first British-born black army officer and the first black officer to lead white British troops into battle.

To Lend your support to the Facebook group campaigning for Walters Medal please click this link.


Military Cross For Walter Tull – Facebook Campaign

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Discrimination in the British Armed Forces-1914

Walter Tull was the first black outfield footballer in Britain. Born in Folkestone in 1888 he was of mixed parentage. His father was from Barbados and his mother was English. Sadly, both his parents died at an early age, so Walter and his Brother were brought up in an orphanage in East London. Walter’s brother Edward was adopted and went to live in Scotland with the Warnocks, where he late worked as a dentist in Aberdeen and Glasgow. Walter stayed behind in London.

While at the orphanage he enjoyed playing football and was an exceptional talent. He was playing for Clapton when in 1909 he was spotted by Tottenham Hotspur. Walter and his Spurs Team mates. Walter was a trained printer but gave up his profession for a more exciting career in football. Spurs paid him a £10 signing on fee, ( the maximum at that time and his wages were £4 per week. After some time it became clear that Walter was not quick enough to be a striker and so he transferred to Northampton Town in 1911.

He played for Northampton until the outbreak of the First World War. Lieutenant Tull and his Brother Edward He enlisted in 17th and 23rd battalion of the Middlesex Regiment (2nd Football). The division was made up of Footballers. Despite military rules at the time forbidding any Black soldiers to become officers, Walter Tull was commissioned in May 1917. Second Lieutenant Tull was killed in action in the 2nd Battle of the Somme,France. His body was never identified.

Related Websites: Walter Tull More Tull info

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Black British History-Caribbean Troops in WW1

BWI Troops

During the first world War the Caribbean sent a great many soldiers to aid the British war effort .
The British West India regiment fought in Africa and in Europe. They were generally used as advance troops and field attendants, they sustained heavy losses. Many of the troops who were wounded were brought back to Britain to convalesce.

Britain’s first black Officer was Walter Tull who also played football for Tottenham Hotspur.

soldier recieves his medal

The Commander of "Chaytor Force", New Zealander, Major General Sir E.W.C.Chaytor, pins on a decoration for gallantry under arms to an unidentified Corpaoral of the British West Indies Regiment - 1918.

Many of these soldiers were decorated for their bravery, and after being demobbed they decided to stay on in Britain.

Although once back in Britain they didn’t always receive a heroes welcome!!

Related Links

Black man, White man, Jew

Read More>>

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