The Second World War ( WWII) from 1939 to 1945 was one of the deadliest conflicts in human history. Massive losses across the world was recorded as a result of the second world war. Thousands of African troops fought in that war on the African continent in places like Egypt, Abyssinia, Somalia, Tanganyika ( Tanzania) etc and overseas in places like India and Burma during the Burma campaign against the Japanese. They fought alongside with the Chindits of India, The British, Americans and Chinese against the Japs in the Burma Campaign. Very little is known about them in Cameroon and Donga Mantung in particular. Sadly, when it comes to history lessons and materials on this subject, it often takes a Euro-centric view and Africa’s story and contribution is hardly ever told. Unfortunately, most people from the Donga Mantung plus a great number across Africa are not even aware of the significant role our people played in the battle fields during world war two (WWII). The purpose of this post is to highlight the contributions/sacrifice of our people from The Great Donga Mantung during WWII.
WWII’s forgotten army: West Africa’s soldiers in Burma | Guardian Features
Kindly note that this write-up is my personal attempt to study and educate our people on the significant role which Africans and people from Donga-Mantung in particular played during WW2 based on my understanding of available material. I think it is very important that our people from The Great Donga Mantung are reminded of the rich contributions of our people during WWII. WWII represents a dark moment in human history but our people need to know that they too were actors in that war which led to the creation of the current world order. I am not a historian and I do not claim to be one. Do not hesitate to contact me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org if you find any misrepresentation of historical facts in this write-up. You can also leave a comment in the comments section at the bottom of this post.Before you start reading, kindly note that during the WW2 era, the present day Donga Mantung Division was part of British Southern Cameroons. The British southern Cameroons – A UN trust territory administered by the British was under Nigeria at the time. Most of our people lived and worked in Nigeria. Our people served in what was called The Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF).
What Is The ROYAL West African Frontier Force (RWAFF)?
The West African Frontier Force (WAFF) was a multi-battalion field force, formed by the British Colonial Office in 1900 to garrison the West African colonies of Nigeria, Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and Gambia. In 1928, it received royal patronage, becoming the Royal West African Frontier Force(RWAFF).The decision to raise this force was taken in 1897 because of British concern at French colonial expansion in territories bordering on Northern Nigeria. The first troops were from that area and thought of by the British as “Hausas” – to the end of colonial rule, the Hausa language was a lingua franca in a very multi-tribal force, especially in Nigeria. The task of raising the new locally recruited force was entrusted to Colonel F.D. Lugard, who arrived in Nigeria in 1898. The following year, an interdepartmental committee recommended the amalgamation of all existing British colonial military forces in West Africa under the designation of the West African Field Force. Rivalry between Britain and France for control of the trade on the River Niger lead to the occupation of areas by the French, for instance at Illo, and the stationing of the Frontier Force at Yashikera and elsewhere in the region
In 1939, the RWAFF was transferred from Colonial Office to War Office control. Under the leadership of General George Giffard (GOC West Africa), the RWAFF served as a cadre for the formation of 81st (West Africa) Division and 82nd (West Africa) Division. Both divisions saw service during the Second World War, serving in Italian Somaliland, Abyssinia, and Burma.
Despite the approach of independence, the military authorities were slow in commissioning African officers. For example, at the time of the Queen’s visit, the 1st Battalion of the Nigeria Regiment had only two African officers, both lieutenants, Kur Mohammed (later assassinated with Abubakar Tafawa Balewa) and Robert Adebayo (commissioned in 1953 as the 23rd West African military officer).
Second World War (1939–1945) and after
The Contributions of Our People From Donga Mantung
During WW2, brave men from the Donga-Mantung division served as soldiers in the 81st and 82nd West African Division of the Royal West African Frontier Force. They fought in places like Italian Somaliland, Tanganyika, Abyssinia, and Burma. One of Such gallant and brave Soldiers from the Donga Mantung was Pa Michael Ngantar from Ndu. I know his story which I am about to tell you because I am his grandson. He was born around 1917 and passed away 77 years later in 1996. My Grandfather, Pa Michael Gantar, must have served in the 82nd (W.A.) Division (the two original Nigerian and Gold Coast brigades, which had fought in the East African Campaign, Abyssinia, plus the newly formed Nigerian 4th Brigade, a Gold Coast battery, two Nigerian batteries and the Auxiliary (Carrier) Groups), arrived in India in January 1944. It had been preceded by the 81st (W.A.) Division consisting of the 3rd Nigerian Brigade which, in fact, was to serve outstandingly with the Chindits, the 5th Gold Coast Brigade and the 6th Brigade comprising one battalion each from Nigeria , Sierra Leone and the Gambia .
After a pause for re-equipping and further training, 82 Div. moved into the Arakan in November as part of XV Corps, for the offensive to clear the Japanese from central Burma and recapture Rangoon . From the Kalapanzin Valley its task was to move down the Mayu Peninsula , then link up with 81 Div. which, in the first move of the offensive, had been pushing across the mountainous terrain of the Kaladan Valley . Although most of the men came from the open grass country of the northern regions of West Africa , they were still quick to adapt to jungle warfare conditions. Both divisions fought hard and persuasively over the hilly, forested and sodden terrain, pushing their foe ever southwards, with the object of eliminating them from the Myochaung area. Towards the end of January 1945 fierce opposition had been overcome when elements of both divisions were heavily engaged, particularly the 1st Nigerian Brigade. On the 24th January Myochaung fell to 81 Div. then supported by two brigades of the 82nd Div. Operations were to continue relentlessly southwards.
For 82nd Div., dependent on air supply, there followed the pursuit of the enemy through the mountainous and difficult country. Retreating parties of Japanese retaliated strenuously. As hill features and ridges were fought over, the enemy proved as reluctant as ever to give ground. After confused fighting 2nd Brigade (Gold Coast) worked towards Kangaw when it came under the command of 25 (Indian) Division. Heavy fighting followed but resistance was soon overcome. At the same time, in their parallel
advance further to the east, 1st and 4th (Nigerian) Brigades were engaged in bitter fighting, suffering considerable casualties in overcoming the opposition before the way was opened to Kaw and later Kyweguseik(22nd Feb.) The heavily congested operation, when 4th Brigade lost two of its commanding officers, continued into March by when, after linking up with Indian units, both the area of the Dalet Chaung and the enemy supply base of Tamandu, were reached.
The next objective for 82nd Div. was the Japanese northern group, known to be occupying a strongly fortified position near AN, in a straight line from Tamandu, some 17 miles to the south east.
The ‘road to AN’, no more than river crossings, the search for routes across the interminable hills, moving along razor-backed ridges, with tracks to be cut and graded, was as anticipated heavily contested. With the reduction in air supply, reliance fell wholly on the carrier battalions who were soon required to head-load all supplies. The Japanese were receiving reinforcements. The 2nd Brigade (Gold Coast) firmly based at Letrnauk came under pressure, suffering many casualties including the British Commander and Brigade Major amongst the wounded. Though the Gold Coast battalions repulsed all attacks and kept up offensive patrols, the position became untenable. Under cover of 1st (Nigerian) Brigade, the main body withdrew on the 13th April. Long distance patrols kept up the pressure on the enemy now occupying Letmauk and AN, culminating in the Japanese withdrawal on the 13th May when elements of 1st Brigade re-occupied AN.
In the coastal belt of Southern Arakan the enemy had to be cleared particularly from the Taungup Pass on the road to Prome. In April. 82 Div. with the East African 22nd Brigade under command, had been moving south from Tamandu when it encountered slight, if spirited, opposition. By the end of May enemy resistance had been overcome and the Division had settled in monsoon quarters, with Divisional HQs and 1st Brigade in the Kindaungyyi area, 2nd Brigade at Taungup and 4th Brigade at Sandoway. Both West African Divisions had excelled at their tasks. Their casualties had been the heaviest of XV Corps. The total killed, wounded and missing in the Corps (including Corps Troops and 22 (E.A.) Brigade) was 5,093, out of which the equivalent casualty figures for the West African and Indian Divisions were: 81st (W.A.) Div — 438: 25 (Indian) Div. — 1,374: 82nd (W.A.) Div. — 2,085:
26 (Indian) Div. — 606. A modest estimate of Japanese casualties, including prisoners (129) over the same period, totals 9,353.
Together with its vital ancillary units the 82nd Division had joined action on the 14th December 1944 . On the conclusion of operations in May 1945, its brigades had covered despite the appalling terrain and conditions: 1st Brigade ( Nigeria ) 285 miles; 2nd Brigade (Gold Coast) 274 miles; 4th Brigade ( Nigeria ) 428 miles, the Recce Regt 282 miles. Throughout these operations the ‘carrier’ Auxiliary Groups had played a vital and prominent role.
All West African units had departed from Asia for good during 1946. Of their comrades who were left behind, inevitably some rested in unmarked graves by jungle tracks. Some (the sick and battle casualties) rested in isolated graves or cemeteries in Burma and India, with others at the larger cemeteries of Burma such as Dalet Chaung near Tamandu, the Taukyan War Cemetery, or are remembered at the War Memorial in Rangoon. Sourced from The Burma Star.
After WWII, soldiers of the Royal West African Frontier Force became known as the “Forgotten Soldiers”. Today, the history of the war, as it is written and taught to our people, is distorted with a eurocentric view of the war. Our children do not even know that our people fought and died in that war side-by-side with the europeans. They think it was the white man’s war and they give all the glory to the white man. Our people were used by European colonial powers as they war workhorses. It saddens me to think that these brave men were not given proper recognition for their gallantry and bravery. Pa Michael was one of the gallant soldiers who made it through the war. He was decorated with several medals for his bravery and sacrifices. The same is true for many other brave soldiers who hailed from the Great Donga Mantung. He settled in Nigeria for several years after the war where he eventually started his family before moving permanently to Ndu (Donga Mantung Division) – his native town, where he settled until his death in 1996. It is high time we started telling our own stories. We have to be our own story tellers in order to inspire the next generation of heroes from within our midst.
Throughout its history the group faced constant prejudice and racism. Fadoyebo – a RWAFF soldier, remembered that while white troops would be captured and imprisoned by the Japanese (to be fair Japanese POWs were horribly treated), Africans were immediately killed. In the RWAFF’s 63 year history it was commanded only by whites and at the end of World War II only one African was promoted to officer rank. The group was disbanded in 1960 – after nearly every country that comprised the RWAFF had achieved independence. I refuse to call them the forgotten soldiers but to keep the memories alive and do all in my power to share with the present generation and the generation to come, the priceless scarifies of the RWAFF during WWII and contribution to this civilization.