African Soldiers WWI

African Soldiers in World War I

‘Black Men in White Men’s War’

It is difficult to state the exact number of African soldiers in World War I. Hundreds of thousands of African men were conscripted in 1914 – 1918 but this is not very well documented. They were dragged into Europe’s war and then forgotten as if their participation was insignificant. Though in recent years views and representations are changing. Stories about these heroes who have until now been omitted from history are coming to the fore. Soldiers from Nigeria, the Gold Coast (Ghana), Sierra Leone, Gambia, Nyasaland (Malawi) and other British African colonies fought in the King’s African Rifles, West African Field Force and the Cape Corps.

Colonial officials and the colonies they represented benefited significantly from the service of African soldiers but the local communities did not. Forced conscription wreaked grave havoc on communities torn apart from losing their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons to war. In 1914 John Chilembwe challenged the basis of the war, questioning African men fighting in a war that was not theirs. There is much documentation on the effects of the Great War on the British people at home. Yet the effects on the African people are not. Let’s take for example, the bitter battles that took place on the Malawi – Tanzania border. People of Malawi (British colony) and Tanzania (German colony) lived on both sides of the border as a unit before the war. The battles caused great fear and insecurities for these people divided only by colonial rule forced to fight against each other, representing their respective colonial masters.

Silent Screams – the impact of African soldiers in WWI

Stories about African soldiers in WWI are scarce to find in mainstream fiction let alone stories about the impact of such war. Yet there is a plethora of stories to find if we look hard enough. Through storytelling we imagine the worlds of others and the essence of the human condition. In film there are stories about WWI but very few if any tell the stories of the oppressed; the voices less heard. Live theatre offers the perfect platform for such stories as audiences are transported into the world of the characters. The great storytelling traditions from Africa communicate ideas in ways that take the listener deep into a world other than their own. This is what makes Learning Through the Arts’ Silent Screams a unique play to come and see. Its immersive elements, traditional Malawian folk-songs and live African drumming captivates you from the start.

You can catch Silent Screams at The Broadway, Barking from 24th – 29th October 2017 @ 7.30pm. Tickets: £12, Consc. £10.

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