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Keep memory of world war veterans alive

REMEMBRANCE Day is a memorial day observed on November 11 every year in the Commonwealth of Nations member countries since the end of the First and Second World Wars to remember the members of their soldiers who died in the line of duty. The day is also marked by war remembrances in many non-Commonwealth countries. In Zambia, soldiers who fought in both world wars are honoured during the Remembrance Day which is commemorated on the second Sunday of November every year in all parts of the country.
In the capital city Lusaka, the ceremony takes place at the national cenotaph in front of Cabinet building along Independence Avenue. The Republican President and Commander- In-Chief of the Armed Forces usually officiate at this event. Diplomats, Defence and Security Service Chiefs and other dignitaries also attend the ceremony. This event should be of particular interest to any student of Zambian history as well as any ordinary citizen.
Some unverified historical records estimated that over half a million African soldiers, among them as many as 14,580 from Northern Rhodesia served with the British Army as combatants and non-combatants in campaigns in the Horn of Africa, the middle East as far as Iraq, Italy, Burma, Malaya, Singapore and Japan during the Second World War. My great grandfather was among these thousands of Africans who were recruited to fight in the Second World War from 1939 to 1945. He died in 1957 in his home village in Mporokoso.
In a quest to find the story of Asikaris, I have attempted for some time now to excavate this interesting historical information about the story of Africans who fought in the world war from museums, Archives and some academic research that have been written or published about the subject.
On October 10, 2012, the Zambia Daily Mail published my letter to the editor headlined “Help me trace my great grandfather’s war records”. In the letter, I asked readers to help me with any clue to this information about my great grandfather’s records, including any other information of Africans who fought in the two world wars. The letter attracted numerous responses which led to some very useful findings. Through a book written by W.V. Brelsford entitled “Story of Northern Rhodesia Regiment”, my great grandfather’s original name (enlisted as sergeant Muma) appears on the list of 41 recipient of the East African Force Badge (1939-1945), an award for distinction and bravery awarded to the Africans and Europeans soldiers by the British who fought in combat in East Africa. It was only after his return from the war in 1945 that the local people in his village nicknamed him “lumpa” because it is said that his steps when walking resembled that of a marching soldier in the army.
According to Brelsford (1954), the Northern Rhodesia Regiment (NRR) was a multi-battalion British colonial regiment formed from the protectorate of Northern Rhodesia. It was formed in 1933 from elements of the Northern Rhodesia Police, which had been formed during the British South Africa Company (BSACo) rule in 1912. The Northern Rhodesia Regiment fought in World War II in Somaliland, Madagascar, the Middle East and Burma.
On July 05, 2016, the Zambia Daily Mail published another analysis headlined “the story of Askaris”. In the article, I argued that “for our country, the many names of these African soldiers who fought in the world wars have not been properly accounted for. For a few who are still alive, there is little or nothing done to highlight their contribution to our country’s history and development”.
However, the Zambia Army through the Army Spokesperson responded to the article in a letter to the editor published in the Zambia Daily Mail on July 9, 2016 stated in part that “Zambian soldiers who fought in the two world wars have their details well documented and their names are displayed in the memorial Hall at Burma Barracks in Lusaka.” This response was much appreciated and added a positive contribution to the historical discourse on the story of the askaris.
Nonetheless, today not much is known among many of our citizens about the story of askaris or the African who fought in the World Wars. Their contribution, sacrifice and bravely should have been highlighted even in our school curriculum.
Therefore, apart from the commemoration that characterises Remembrance Day, institutions such as the University of Zambia (UNZA) and or the Copperbelt University (CBU) should organise public lectures where the media, historians, academicians, the Zambia Army or Defence Personnel including some surviving World War veterans can interact with the public with the view to educate and enlighten the public on the stories of the thousands of Africans who fought in the two world wars and what the significance of their contribution means in our society today.
The author is a great-grandson of a World War 2 soldier.