Africa in World War I (1914 – 1918)
The war in Europe was carried into Africa, where the territories governed by Britain, France, Belgium and Portugal provided soldiers and supplies to fight against the colonies ruled by Germany.
The Machine Gun Section of No. I Company, Gold Coast Regiment. The Gold Coast Regiment was part of the West African Frontier Force and numbered altogether 9,980 Black soldiers in the ranks. They played an important role in the conquest of the German colonies of Togoland and of the Cameroons and in the war in East Africa.
photographs left and below courtesy of the Imperial War Museum
Fighting men and followers came from all over Africa, as well as men to serve as carriers and porters, who helped transport ammunition and wood, build trenches and bridges. Honours were awarded, including 39 Distinguished Conduct Medals, and 24 Military Medals.
Right: 28th Cape Coast detachment (volunteers)
On 21 February 1917 the SS Mendi was transporting 823 members of the 5th Battalion, South African Native Labour Corps, to France.
She had sailed from Cape Town to Plymouth, before proceeding towards Le Havre. At 5am, while under escort of the destroyer HMS Brisk, she was struck and cut almost in half by the SS Darro, an empty meat ship that was bound for Argentina. 616 South Africans (607 of them black troops) plus 30 British crew members died in the disaster.
Left: Men of the 3rd Nigerian Battalion on board a transport ship (courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)
Their chaplain, Reverend Isaac Dyobha, is reported to have calmed the panicked men by raising his arms aloft and crying out in a loud voice:
“Be quiet and calm my countrymen. What is happening now is what you came to do. You are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the death drill. I, a Xhosa, say you are my brothers. Let us die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa.”
Their names are listed on the Memorial at Hollybrook Cemetery in Southampton.
The Gold Coast Constabulary was renamed in 1901 as the Gold Coast Regiment, following the foundation of the West African Frontier Force, under the direction of the Colonial Office of the British Government.
The regiment raised a total of five battalions for service during the First World War, all of which served during the East Africa campaign.
Photograph courtesy of the Imperial War Museum