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Troops in Action
World War Two: Social Impact

WORLD WAR 2
The Second World War was sparked off by the territorial ambitions in Europe and Africa of Germany's Chancellor, Adolf Hitler. Africa was drawn in at a number of levels. Hitler wished to regain the German colonies which had been confiscated after the First World War. Hitler's ally, Mussolini, the Italian leader, had invaded Ethiopia in 1935, arousing much indignation.

"Sin-possessed and intoxicated with authority, Mussolini, the Fascist Dictator with his "smash and grab" doctrine of civilisation has announced his East Africa spoils to the world. He is also said to be having his hands in the Spanish mists. This is as should be expected of a child of darkness...

There by him we find his brother Hitler, the German dictator, dreaming his usual daydreams - a German Empire, with Russia as his armrest; France as his footstool, England as his manufacturing nation, and the colonies as labourers to work in his Nazi vineyard. His continuous dream is of world subjugation..."
The Comet, 5 Dec 1926.

RECRUITMENT
As in the First World War, the colonial powers needed African manpower. This time African troops (with the exception of those from South Africa who were not allowed to bear arms) were to play a much more combatant role both in and outside Africa. Half a million Africans fought for the French and the British during the war.

Listen HereListen to a Pathe news report of African troops in action

Listen HereHear Ghanaian war veterans singing of their experiences

Recruiting policies were much more sophisticated than they had been in the First World War. Anti-fascist propaganda was broadcast on the radio and disseminated through newspapers and poster campaigns, with dramatic cartoons and drawings depicting what life might be like under German rule.

On the whole people rallied to the war effort, angered by the invasion of Ethiopia.

Listen HereHear the troops singing of their going away to war

Enlistment to the armed forces was supposed to be voluntary. However, a good deal of pressure was also employed through local chiefs, and forced labour was used in mining and agricultural areas.

Listen HereListen to the men singing of fighting for their king and country

Despite a generally cooperative mood, there were some dissenting voices, notably that of ITA Wallace Johnson, Editor of the African Standard and tireless critic of the British in Sierra Leone. They responded by interning him for the duration of the war. He saw the war as simply serving the interests of capitalism and colonialism:

ENLIST TODAY!

Enlist today!
Your country needs you!
Not for learning how to shoot the big howitzers
Or how to rat tat tat the machine guns
Or how to fly o'er peaceful countries
Dropping bombs on harmless people
Or how to fix a bayonet and charge at
The harmless workers of another clime

Your country needs you
For the rebuilding of your shattered homeland -
Your homeland ruined by exploitation
By the tyrants of foreign nations
Who would use you as their catspaw
While they starved you to subjection
African Standard, 28 July 1939.

EFFECTS OF WAR
With access to Asian markets cut off, African commodities assumed great importance during the war. So in Liberia rubber production increased. The Belgian Congo was relied on for key minerals.

Britain tried to increase tin mining production in Nigeria to offset losses in the Far East. Workers were forced to work in the mines in appalling conditions and production rose only slightly. The scheme was abandoned in 1944. In 1945 there was a General Strike in Nigeria.

In 1941 miners in the Belgian Congo went on strike because of the high cost of living. The strike was broken by the army, and seventy strikers were killed.

Many imports were under license and food prices increased. Sea ports in Cape Town, Freetown, Mombasa, and Takoradi, as well as landing facilities for planes, were upgraded. Once America entered the war in 1942, Robertsfield Airport was built for B47 bombers to refuel, giving Liberia the longest runway in Africa to this day.