World War 1: Recruitment
SUPPORT FOR THE WAR EFFORT
Many people in Africa had only the vaguest understanding of what the First World War was about. Certainly the reasons for it were not easy to understand. It
was triggered by the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand of Serbia, and in
Europe, people thought it would be all over by Christmas of 1914.
Without the cooperation of local leaders and chiefs, European powers would not
have been able to raise the troops and carriers they needed, and some chiefs
were very willing to help.
"This is one of the most important services that
I have done for the peace of the protecting government and for the peace of
the whole world.
A war against Britain was a war against Buganda, and so, when
I was appointed to lead some soldiers, I at once left for Kampala with 5,000
men. There I was told not to go to the battlefield at once, but to wait in my
country and do as I was directed. While waiting, these are some of the things
(a) I did all I could to recruit men for the armies.
(b) I sent in a lot of carriers.
(c) I very much encouraged the growing of food…
(d) I encouraged further the growing of cotton…
(e) Because I very much wanted peace I tried my best to get into contact with
the British armies for I did not want the enemy to get to our city London."
TheRecord of My Service by Buganda chief Samwiri Mukasa.
Nigeria, there was a general rallying round among urban educated Nigerians.
Speeches were made and money collected.
"Our kith and kin have gone to fight in our stead,
and it is only right that we should give them all the support necessary... Ingratitude
is the greatest reproach that could be flung at a native, and I therefore urge
upon all to contribute their quota to this national fund so that it might not
be said we are ungrateful to the British Government for many benefits conferred."
Dr. Obasa, described in West Africa magazine as the "well-known Lagos public
man," speaking at a meeting of chiefs at Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos.
People were recruited in a number of ways. One
was through a direct appeal for volunteers. This happened first in Egypt, where
peasants were attracted by the wages offered.
Another was recruitment through chiefs. The British enlisted the help of chiefs
and left them to find the men however they could. Although officially nobody
was supposed to be forced into signing up, inevitably they were.
"We came back one night from our yam farm. The chief
called us and handed us over to a government messenger. I didn't know where
we were going, but the chief and the messenger said that the white man had sent
for us and we must go. After three days we reached the white man's compound.
Plenty of others had arrived from other villages far away. And the white man
wrote our names in a book. And tied a brass numbered ticket round our necks
and gave each man a blanket and food.
Then he told us we were going to the Great War to help the king's soldiers who
were preventing the Germans coming to our country and burning it. We left and
marched far into the bush. The government police led the way and allowed no
man to stop behind."
A first hand account of what it was like to be
recruited. As told by No.1475, a carrier who was recruited in 1914. Quoted
in The African Contribution to the Second World War.
There was also forced recruitment. This happened under the British in northern
Rhodesia. In the Congo, the Belgians forced 260,000 men to be porters carrying
soldiers, equipment and provisions.
Listen to a porter as he recalls being sent to the war
Men were also conscripted. In 1912, the French set about creating a permanent
black army. There was compulsory military service for all African males. After
the outbreak of the war, 14,785 troops were signed up in West Africa. Then in
1915-16, 50,000 more were recruited through chiefs.
African troops under French command were combatant. The 'tirailleurs' in charge
of artillery, with their distinctive red fezes, were famous. In 1918, Blaise
Diagne, the Senegalese politician and the first African Deputy in the French
Chamber of Deputies, was appointed High Commissioner of Recruitment of black
In East Africa, the British instituted a compulsory service order in 1915 covering
all males aged 18-45. This was extended to the Uganda Protectorate in April