• August 26, 2016

I read recently that British ex-servicemen started a campaign to get a medal for those who served after 1945. They want the National Defence Medal to reward their service many of course were conscripted but not all because conscription ended in 1960.
However I thought it raised an interesting paradox.
Of course many people were recruited from the colonies in World War 2 from East and West Africa and of course India and the Caribbean. When they returned home after fighting for freedom some found the British placed a curious interpretation of freedom and they once again found themselves colonised and ruled and oppressed.
Of course some broke the chains swiftly like India and Pakistan but for others it was a hard slog.
In Africa attitudes to involvement of the indigenous population in government were mixed.
In his book ‘Fighting for Britain: African Soldiers in the Second World War’ author David Killingray remarks:
“By 1946 the Gold Coast (present day Ghana) had a new constitution and a legislative council with an elected African majority. In sharp contrast, in Kenya, on the other side of the continent, only a single African had been appointed by the governor in 1944 to the otherwise all-white legislature (pp. 257-8)”.
Although the fight for African freedom would take years and not end until the fall of Apartheid in South Africa the Kenya story was an interesting one. Some returning ex servicemen soon found that the ‘Empire’ they had fought for was not intending to reward them and years later some of these men were involved in the political freedom fight and joined the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (sometimes called Mau Mau).
Of course the British Army deployed troops many of whom were conscripts to ruthlessly crackdown on the rebellion which dragged on for over five years.
It wasn’t just the Land and Freedom Army vets that suffered. Even just minding your own business and keeping out of trouble was difficult.
As author Huw Bennett says in his book ‘Fighting Mau Mau’:
“The (British) army simultaneously coerced the population to drop their support for the rebels, imposing collective fines, mass detentions and frequent interrogations, often tolerating rape, indiscriminate killing and torture to terrorise the population into submission.”
It’s ironic that some of those National Service veterans were they now living would qualify for a medal for as Bennett puts it ‘terrorising the population’ whilst the people they fought and in some instances killed who had served the British Empire in WW 2 were regarded as rebels.
I’m sure there are many other examples of people from overseas territories who loyally served the British suffering rejection and abuse when they returned home.
Maybe someone should run a campaign for them!
Image: British troops in Kenya 1950s
‘Fighting for Britain: African Soldiers in the Second World War’
David Killingray
Woodbridge, James Currey, 2010, ISBN: 9781847010155
‘Fighting the Mau Mau’
Huw Bennett University College of Wales, Aberystwyth
January 2013 ISBN: 9781107656246
pp Celtic League Military Monitoring.
TEL: 01624 877918 or 07624 491609
The Celtic League established in 1961 has branches in the six Celtic Countries including our own Mannin branch. It promotes cooperation between the countries and campaigns on a range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, military activity and socio-economic issues

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