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Lamentations of an ex-soldier’s son

BOOK REVIEW:
Title: The Forgotten Soldiers
Author: Elliam Moses Mulenga
Pages: 128
Price: $28

HE HAS titled the book The Forgotten Soldiers, an account of African soldiers who served with the British Army in the Second World War; but the book is more than that, this is actually his memoir, a diary of events as he saw them.
But again, it is easy to understand why the author, Elliam Moses Mulenga, has titled the book that way. His father was in the Kings African Rifles (KAR), and at the end of the Second World War, most of the men, according to him, ended as paupers without any tangible benefits following their demobilisation. His father though was employed as a messenger in the British colonial administration.
“Not all got the same jobs and others were incapacitated. My father got employed in 1948. But it is not known whether the conditions ceased after attainment of independence or the British colony cancelled them,” he says.
“I, as the son of an ex-soldier, who left the army on the grounds of demobilisation, would have completed my secondary education, in my case at Mungwi Secondary School, and even got further bursaries for university or college if the Zambian government had not introduced free education.”
The conditions for ex-soldiers that he is talking about include the War Memorial Fund, which he benefited from as a student.
“As a student at Mporokoso L.E.A school and later Mungwi Secondary School, the Northern Rhodesian government through the District Commissioner paid for my schools fees, uniforms and any school requirements which were not freely provided by the school like books at that time,” he says.
“While in form II at Mungwi, the principal requested me to assist colleagues on their shortfall on school fees because I had more than enough from the money sent from the War Memorial Fund. At the end of the school term, I had enough money to travel to the Copperbelt for the first time.
“[But] at independence, the government decided to provide free education. This meant, therefore, that the funding for my school fees and many others stopped, thus joining the rest to depend either on the working parents for other requisites which were not covered by the government.”
He says this means that the Zambian government was now subsidising the British government who provided the funds and to date, he does not know what happened to the War Memorial Fund provided by the Northern Rhodesian government.
“I would take it that some of us could have used these funds for even college or university like Mr [Simon] Zukas,” he writes.
“I know children from Mporokoso who were either children or dependants of KAR soldiers like Peter Lubusha, Nondo Wilson, Clement Chileshe and many others who could have excelled in life and even to the presidency like Yoweri Museveni, who I understand had his father serving as a soldier in the Ugandan Seventh Battalion.
“In the Central African Republic, former President Jean Bokassa was on a French pension while serving as President for serving with French forces in 1950 in Korea. He, even as President, brought to CAR a daughter he had fathered in Korea.”
In the subsequent chapters, the author talks about his school days, particularly in Mporokoso and Mungwi Secondary School; African-European relationships; media coverage in the colonial period; early social amenities; manpower availability; his experience studying in Portugal; and his many other reflections on Zambia, Africa and indeed the world.
That is why the book is more than just a chronicle about African soldiers who served in the British army during the Second World War even though their future lives may have been greatly shaped by that experience.
However, in the last chapter of the book, he returns to the theme of the forgotten soldiers.
He begins this chapter by giving an account of Simon Zukas, who also served in the KAR at the age of 18 in order to fight fascism against the Italians in Somalia.
“The recruitmen, according to him [Zukas], was voluntary, especially for white soldiers like him and non-essential workers. In his case, he had to be interviewed by Mr [Roy] Welensky, who was the Director of Manpower and later the Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland,” he writes.
“As for the African soldiers, according to him, they joined the force as Askaris either voluntarily or through their chiefs who even forced them to join the army.
“These forces took part in fighting in Mogadishu in Somaliland up to Harejesa north to the Gulf of Eden into Ethiopia fighting the Italian forces until the final battles around 1963 when the Italians lost in Abyssinia [Ethiopia] and surrendered.
“There was war in Malaysia where some Northern Rhodesia soldiers worked with other forces from Nyasaland [Malawi] and fought in Burma, where, according to Mr Zukas, Northern Rhodesia suffered heavy losses.”
The author’s father, Moses Lubansa, who was born at Kafwi village in Mporokoso and lived in Belgian Congo and later Broken Hill Mines, served in East Africa, in army barracks known by such names as Gondar, Arakan and Tug-Agan.
“My father was sent together with my mother to Kenya and stayed at Karen Camp Ngong road…It has been known that Nairobi was a command headquarters for East and Central Africa which faced the forces of Germany and Italy,” he says.
“Information may not be available when the last soldiers, in particular those who served abroad, were demobilised. After their duty of service ended, those men went back to their home villages with uniforms and other items acquired while serving in other countries like Burma-Myanmar, where one of our barracks got its name.
“My father, like some men, went back to Mporokoso and later got a job at the Boma as the stores clerk though there was recruitment for district messengers. Unlike in the military, where riflemen were given boots, district messengers had no shoes and this discouraged others from joining the job of a messenger.”
Although the author laments over the lost benefits as a son of an ex-soldier who served in the KAR, he had a fairly exciting career in the civil service. He worked for the Government Immigration Department before serving in the diplomatic service as an immigration attaché in Lubumbashi, DRC.
“Getting employment was exciting; we were given jobs before we left school. Those who went in the military, especially young officers, went to either Mons or Sandhurst in Britain. Selection was done before they got ‘O’ level results, in our case Cambridge University,” he writes.
“The Manpower Division in the government sent forms and we chose careers while at school except for those who went to university afterwards. I was given a choice in the Ministry of Health but left to work in Kitwe in the National & Grindlays Bank with former school-mate V. B. Kanta on Obote Avenue, now occupied by Stanbic Bank.
“Due to lack of accommodation, and as the first-born child, I decided to leave and joined the Immigration Department in Lusaka. I went for training at NIPA and got the highest marks in the main subjects and was sent to the International Airport.”
The author remembers Chelston being far from Lusaka city but for workers at the International Airport, it was another place. He remembers shebeens in houses on Ngwerere Road, Kalikiliki, the Barn Motel under Arthur Wina, Moono Bar and later Mumana Pleasure Resort, which was established by an Eneke, a Nigerian who worked in the civil service.
He says students from the University of Zambia and the Natural Resources Development College (NRDC) frequented these places.
“Chelston thrived as officers from ZAF competed for whatever, including women, and Zambia Airways had a very big compound with hostesses, pilots and airport service staff. Everyone tried to outdo each other by buying some cars, at that time, they could be Ford Capri or some British-made cars,” he says.
“I had a Morris which I bought at K1,500 having been used for only 18 months from a Yugoslav old man on Cha Cha Cha road. Sports cars were famous like Spite Fire? And people like Elisha Banda from the Road Traffic and Dr Sefelino Mulenga, former Minister of Lands, had fancy cars.
“Big American cars were sported especially the Mustang driven by my cousin Stanley Makulu at Foreign Affairs was a talk of town. Other popular figures at the time were of course V. J. Mwaanga, Rupiah Banda, Dennis Liwewe, Judge Lewanika and those involved in football at Woodlands Stadium in Lusaka.
“Music in most places was live, bands in far places as Rock Wood or Rock Gardens west of Lusaka, Mundawanga, La Gondola in Katondo Street, Lusaka Hotel, Tambalala and Monty’s Highway Tavern, Wood Peckers Inn and Lotus Inn. Foreign musicians include Equals from UK, Eddie Grant, Gordon Brothers and James Brown.”
This book, which no doubt suffered from poor editing, therefore is about the author’s childhood both under the colonial administration and independent Zambia. He also gives an account of life as a diplomat. KK

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