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Soldiers, Ex-Servicemen, and Politics in the Gold Coast, 1939–50

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 November 2008

David Killingray
Senior Lecturer in History, Goldsmiths' College, University of London1


Much has been written and assumed about the impact of World War II on the political consciousness of African soldiers. It has been stated that as a result of their military service the veterans developed a new political awareness, and that consequently they played a singnificant rôle in the nascent nationalist movements of the post-war period. This argument has been presented more persuasively for East Africa, although some of the evidence produced to support the thesis appears at times rather thin. It has been strongly contested for West Africa.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1983

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page 523 note 2 E.g. Davidson, Basil, Africa in Modern History: the search for a new society (London, 1978), PP. 199 and 203.Google Scholar

page 523 note 3 E.g. Shiroya, Okete J. E. ‘The Impact of World War II on Kenya: the role of ex-servicemen in Kenyan nationalism’, Ph.D. dissertation, Michigan State University, East Lancing, 1968, especially chs. iv and v.Google Scholar However, see the cautionary note about ex-servicemen in southern Tanganyika by Liebenow, J. Gus, Colonial Rule and Political Development in Tanzania: the case of the Makonde (Nairobi, 1971), pp. 160–2.Google Scholar

page 523 note 4 E.g. Olusanya, G. O., ‘The Rôle of Ex-Servicemen in Nigerian Politics’, in The Journal of Modern African Studies (Cambridge), 6, 2, 08 1968, pp. 221–32Google Scholar, and The Second World War and Politics in Nigeria, 1939–1953 (London, 1973), pp. 93102.Google Scholar

page 523 note 5 Schleh, Eugene I. A. ‘Post-Service Careers of African World War Two Veterans: British East and West Africa with particular reference to Chana and Uganda’, Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University New Haven 1968Google Scholar, and The Post-War Careers of Ex-Servicemen in Ghana and Uganda’, in The Journal of Modern African Studies, 6 2, 08 1968, pp. 203–20.Google Scholar

page 523 note 6 Rathbone, Richard, ‘Businessmen in Politics: party struggle in Ghana, 1949–57’, in Journal of Development Studies (London), 9, 3, 04 1973, P. 392.Google Scholar

page 523 note 7 Boahen, A. Adu, Ghana: evolution and change in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (London, 1975), pp. 153–4Google Scholar, and Buah, F. K., A History of Ghana (London, 1980), P. 149.Google Scholar

page 523 note 8 Pempeh, Samuel ‘The Basel and Bremen Missions and Their Successors in the Gold Coast and Togoland, 1914–1926’, PhD. dissertation, Aberdeen University, 1977, pp. 38 and 53–4.Google Scholar See also Matthews, James J., ‘World War I and the Rise of African Nationalism: Nigerian veterans as catalysts of change’, in The Journal of Modern African Studies, 20, 3, 09 1982, pp. 493502.Google Scholar

page 524 note 1 For the 1914–1918 war, see Greenstein, Lewis J., The Impact of Military Service in World War I on Africans: the Nadi of Kenya’, in The Journal of Modern African Studies, 16 3, 09 1978, pp. 495507Google Scholar: Page, Melvin Eugene, ‘Malawians in the Great War and After, 1915–1925’, Ph.D. dissertation, Michigan State University, East Lansing, 1977;Google ScholarMatthews, James K., ‘Nigerian Military Experiences in teh First World War: recruitment, service and Post-war Changes’, Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1981.Google Scholar

page 525 note 1 Diaries, War, Gold Coast Area, secret, ‘Monthly Newsletter’, June 1942, WO 173/369, Public Records Office, London.Google Scholar

page 525 note 2 Rathbone, loc. cit. p. 392.

page 525 note 3 CO 968/72/13011/27, 1943, P.R.O., and many references in the files of the Colonial and Foreign Offices. See also Lee, Ulyeeses, United States Army in World War II: employment of Negro troops (Washington, D.C., 1966), ch. xv.Google Scholar

page 525 note 4 Danquah, Moses, ‘Tragedy of Burma: British failure in Burma befire the war’ in West African Review (London), 12 1945, pp. 33–6;Google Scholar‘A Psalm by an African Labourer’, by a Soldier, Gold Coast, in African Morning Post (Accra), 2 09 1945;Google ScholarLetter from Gold Coast soldiers to Kobina Sekyi 09 and 12 1945, in Langley, J. Ayodele, Pan Africanism and Nationalism in West Africa, 1900–1945: a study in ideology and social classas (Oxford, 1973), pp. 345–6Google Scholar, and Langley, (ed.) Ideologies of Liberation in Black Africa, 1856–1970: document on modern African political though from colonial times to the present (London, 1979), pp. 415–16.Google Scholar See also ‘Letter from Pte. Theo Ayoola to Herbert Macauley, 17 September 1945’, quoted to by Davidson, op. cit. p. 199; and Aborigines Rights' Protection Society correspondence, 1936–45, in National Archives of Chana, cape Coast, Acc. 77/1964.

page 526 note 1 In a similar vein N. J. Westcott argues that returning askari gained more in physique than mind from military service. Africans with political ideas ‘appear to have been those who were politically conscious before they were recruited’, and ‘it was those who stayed in Tanganyika rather than the ex-soldiers who provided the new impetus in African politics during the 1940s’. ‘The Impact of the Second World War on Tanganyika, 1939–1949’, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Cambridge, 1982 pp. 294 and 297–8.Google Scholar

page 526 note 2 E.g. Corporal Samson Yeboah of the Royal West African Frontier Force Headquarters, Accra, whose article ‘Self-Government Now?’ appeared in the officially produced RWAFF News (Cairo and Bombay), 24 01 1945, p. 2.Google ScholarPubMed

page 526 note 3 Tadman to Rolleston, most secret, 5 February 1945, CO820/55/34458C, and ‘Morale – South East Asia Command’, secret, 1944–6, WO 203/2268, P.R.O.

page 526 note 4 War Diaries, H.Q. 81st Division ‘G’ Branch, secret, intelligence report, 23 November 1944, WO 172/6590, P.R.O. See also, Thomas, Ralph, ‘Indian Malcontents and West African Soldiers: some thoughts on the Indian problem’, in West African Review, 11 1944, p. 45Google Scholar, which warned against West Africans being ‘infected’ by ‘false’ propaganda from Indian nationalists. ‘Summary of Problems Arising out of Resettlement of Ex-soldiers of 82nd Division’, secret, G.H.Q., West Africa, 1 September 1945, CO 554/33779, P.R.O.

page 526 note 5 See West African Pilot (Lagos), 6 12 1940, on discrimination towards West African servicemen passing through South Africa.Google ScholarPubMed

page 526 note 6 ‘Notes on Colonial and Local Troops’, G.H.Q., Middle East Force, confidential, February 1945, CO 820/55/34542A, P.R.O.

page 527 note 1 War Diaries, H.Q. 81st Division, ‘G’ Branch, secret, intelligence report, 25 September 1944, WO 172/6590, P.R.O.

page 527 note 2 ‘Morale — South East Asia Command’, loc. cit.

page 527 note 3 War Diaries, 82nd Division, secret, Divisional Conference, H.Q., 17–18 May 1945, WO 172/9561, P.R.O.

page 527 note 4 War Diaries, 82nd Division, ‘Note to all RWAFF Units’, 1 October 1945, WO 172/9652, P.R.O. For an earlier comment, see Bishop, Brigadier W.H.A., ‘War Time Influences on British West Africa’, in The Crown Colonist (London), 03 1943.Google Scholar

page 527 note 5 On army education and the demobilisation of African troops, see Killingray, David, ‘The Colonial Army in the Gold Coast: official policy and local response, 1890–1947’, Ph.D. dissertation, University of London, 1982, chs. 8 and 9.Google Scholar

page 528 note 1 The National Archives of Ghana in Accra contain a large number of letters from servicemen in India. See also ‘Summary of Problems Arising out of the Resettlement of Ex-Soldiers of 82nd Division’, CO 554/140/33779, P.R.O.

page 528 note 2 This may have been so for East and Central Africa, but there is little evidence from either World War to indicate this for West Africa. Cf. Shepperson, George A., ‘External Factors in the Development of African Nationalism with Particular Reference to British Central Africa’, in Historians in Tropical Africa. Proceedings of the Leverhulme Inter-Collegiate History Conference (Salisbury, 1962), mimeographed, pp. 318–19;Google Scholar and Page, op. cit. ch. 7.

page 528 note 3 Tait, David, The Konkomba of Northern Ghana (London, 1961), pp. 910.Google Scholar

page 528 note 4 In the Gold Coast the main concern of officals appears to have been whether there were sufficient coins with which to pay demobilised soldiers!

page 529 note 1 See Ex-Service (Accra), the official organ of the Ex-Servicemen's Union.Google Scholar The first issue, 25 April 1947, and the second, 17 May 1947, contain a very brief history of the Union; copies in P.R.O. CO 968/6. See also Asante, S. K. B., Pan-African Protest: West Africa and the Italo-Ethiopian crisis, 1934–1941 (London, 1977), pp. 122–3.Google Scholar

page 529 note 2 Asante, op. cit. pp. 123–8 and 139–41.

page 529 note 3 Killingray, David, ‘Military and Labour Recruitment in the Gold Cost during the Second World War’, in Journal of African History (Cambridge), 22 2, 1982.Google Scholar

page 529 note 4 Anderson, J. C., informal diary, 29 May 1944; Mss. Afr.s. 943, Rhodes House Library, Oxford.Google Scholar

page 530 note 1 See Birmingham, Walter B., ‘An Index of Real Wages of Unskilled Labour in Accra, 1939–1959’, in Economic Bulletin of Ghana (Accra), 4, 3, 1966Google Scholar; Berg, Elliot J., ‘Real Income Trends in West Africa, 1939–1960’, in Herskovits, Melville J. and Hervitz, Mitchell (eds.), Economic Transition in Africa (Evanston, 1964), p. 232;Google Scholar and Kay, G. B. (ed.), The Political Economy of Colonialism in Ghana (Cambridge, 1972), p. 332, Table 20c.Google Scholar

page 530 note 2 Colonial Secretary's reply to Secretary of Ex-Sevicemen's Union, 10 March 1948; CO 964/6, P.R.O.

page 531 note 1 The Report of the Commission of Enquiry into Disturbances in the Gold Coast, 1948 (London, 1948), p. 3Google Scholar, hereinafter referred to as the Watson Report; also West Africa (London), 21 08 1948.Google Scholar

page 531 note 2 Watson Report, p. 10: ‘the present association may be said to represent ex-service personnel who have grievances and who are dissatisfied with the constitution and management of the Gold Coast Legion in the representation of such grievances’.

page 531 note 3 The officers of the Union in August 1947 were: Prince R. T. Dodoo, General President; B. E. Ahmed Tamakloe, General Secretary; E. W. Adjaye, Jr., Assistant Secretary; W. A. de Badger, Treasurer; Gilbert Sam, Financial Secretary; and P. Q. Adjisam, Assistant Financial Secretary. Shortly after the riots of February 1948, Tamakloe broke with the Union to form a rival Ex-Servicemen's Association, a largely moribund body. In June 1950, he helped form the conservative People's Democratic Party in Kumasi.

page 531 note 4 Petition of Ex-Servicemen's Union to Governor Creasy, 28 February 1948; CO 964/6, P.R.O., printed in Waston Report, appendix 15. See also Ashanti Pioneer (Kumasi), 8 March and 9 April 1948.

page 532 note 1 For an indictment of government policy, see Watson Report, paras. 164–258. Austin, Dennis, Politics in Ghana, 1946–1960 (London, 1964), provides the background to the disturbances.Google Scholar See also Rathbone, Richard, ‘The Transfer of Power in Ghana, 1945–57’, Ph.D. dissertation, University of London, 1968, especially ch. 1.Google Scholar

page 532 note 1 R. C. K. Hewlett, ‘The Ghana Legion: a brief sketch’, prepared for delivery to the Yugoslav Union of Fighters, Belgrade, 1962, mimeographed, describes the initial purpose of the Union as ‘collective bargaining’. The Secretary of the Kumasi branch of the Union wrote that the ‘ultimate object is to merge out as a trade union and then find work for the unemployed’; Ashanti Pioneer, 4 July 1947.

page 532 note 3 Cole, Henry B., ‘The Grievances Behind the Gold Coast Riots: position of the ex-servicemen’, in African World (London), 04 1948, p. 12.Google Scholar

page 532 note 4 B. E. A. Tamakloe to Dr J. B. Danquah (leader of the U.G.C.C.), 1 August 1947; CO 964/6, P.R.O.

page 532 note 5 Gold Coast Independent (Accra), 28 02 1948, p. 135.Google ScholarPubMed The Watson Report, p. 10, stated: ‘Whatever the views of the rank and file of the Union it is clear that the leaders have close assoiation with the United Gold Coast Convention’.

page 532 note 6 Austin, op. cit. p. 11; see also pp. 73–4.

page 532 note 7 Nkrumah, Kwame, Ghana. The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah (London, 1959), p. 63.Google Scholar See also the specious attempt by the Government to assess the number of ex-servicemen in the crowd at the rally in Accra on 20 February 1948, in Gold Coast: brief narrative of events from the 17th February to 13th March 1948 (Accra, Government Printer, 1948), p. 1.Google Scholar

page 533 note 1 Interview with Lawrence A. Laryea, 25 April 1979, who was then Secretary of the Ghana Legion in Accra.

page 533 note 2 I have heard that Adrienne Manns of The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, has attempted to do this, but unfortunately I have not seen her paper.

page 533 note 3 Rathbone, loc. cit. p. 392.

page 533 note 4 Owusu, Maxwell, Uses and Abuses of Political Power: a case study of continuity and change in the politics of Ghana (Chicago, 1970), pp. 171–82.Google Scholar

page 533 note 5 Ladouceur, Paul André, Chiefs and Politicians: the politics of regionalism in Northern Ghana (London, 1979), p. 68.Google ScholarCf. Dickenson, J. R., Annual Report of the Labour Department, 1938–39 (Accra), pp. 1011Google Scholar, CO 98/74, P.R.O., which states that migrant workers returning from the south were only very slightly influenced as to their mode of dress, ideas of sanitation and hygiene, and knowledge of technology.

page 534 note 1 Holbrook, Wendell P., ‘Oral History and the Nascent Historiography for West Africa and the Second World War: a focus on Ghana’, in International Journal of Oral History (Westport, Conn.), 11 1982.Google Scholar