One of the forgotten tales of the Second World War was how it took about 100,000 African soldiers to fight for the British Empire in its hour of need, which included about 45,000 Nigerians. In 1944, these soldiers were sent to Southeast Asia against the Japanese conquerors to drive them out of Burma. It was announced that on March 8, 1942, Japanese forces invaded Rangoon, the Burmese capital, and British forces were forced out of the country into India. The British withdrew into anarchy, and India was confronted by one of the most treasured British empires.
Britain, which was a major player in the Second World War, did not have the military might to fit its position. Although it had other allies’ resources, it had a gap in its power. By enlisting the support of its colonies, this gap was closed. Most of the enlisted soldiers were young adults, but a significant number of them were children as young as 16 who ran away from home as British Army soldiers. There have also been cases of Nigerian men being coerced into conscription.
British Soldiers inspecting Nigerian soldiers
After that, in the theater of war and the allied powers, Nigeria became a key country. Besides being the staging point in Africa, many infantry regiments were also established to support the British armies, and the majority of the British Army’s 81st and 82nd West Africa Divisions were formed by Nigerian regiments.
By the time the war began, the longest and bloodiest of the Second World War was the fight to drive the Japanese out of Burma, and Burma, now called Myanmar, became the scene of the war. A more seasoned and entrenched Japanese Imperial army was confronted by the Allied forces in Burma. Despite this, the allied forces were able to drive the Japanese out of Burma with the use of aerial re-supply and successful use of the jungle terrain. The jungle terrain compelled the Allied forces, a task that the Nigerian forces excelled at, to implement new tactics and logistical tactics. Non-combatant troops were uniquely used by the two West African divisions as porters, head-carrying auxiliary supplies, and ammunition.
The Battle of Myohaung, a quickly conducted operation to capture the town of Myohaung, was the greatest engagement of the war waged by Nigerian forces. To encircle the city, both Nigerian divisions were deployed, with the 81st Division expected to return to India after the capture of the city. The Japanese forces fled the city after some fierce fighting on the outskirts of the city upon discovering they had been surrounded. As the town lay on major supply routes for Japan, the recapture of Myohaung was strategically significant. But, despite the Nigerian troops’ good combat record, none of the Nigerian corps’ commanding officers were from Nigeria.
Tens of thousands of its troops died when the Japanese withdrawal began, many from sickness and malnutrition, and when some of the Japanese soldiers became too tired to go on, they blew themselves up with grenades. Japanese forces in Burma eventually surrendered on August 28, 1945, and more than half of the Japanese soldiers who went to Burma never returned.
Nigerian and Indian Frontline of War Soldiers.
Nigerian soldiers returning home after the war earn no official thanks for their service in the war after the war. Many of the troops returned home to handle what remained of the stipends they had received during the war. Seventy-five years later, the war bonus offered by the British government has not been paid to date, and many are still bitter that their contribution has never been completely appreciated.
What is even more heartbreaking is that Nigerian troops were not included in the victory speech by commanding officer General William Slim after the achievement of the Allied goals in Burma, and none of this is addressed in both British history through school curriculum, but more specifically Nigerian history, to date. While there is a lot of talk about the West, and some talk about the Indians who helped push the Japanese out of Burma in the war, there is hardly any mention of Nigerians who have been involved in the effort as well.
The grave of one of the war veterans .
The presence of Nigeria in WWII, however, helped drive the fight for independence from colonial rule. This was in part because, with new ideas and experiences, most of the African soldiers returned home. They had toured the globe and those who were in Burma’s jungles had found that, after all, white and black were not so different. When more and more Africans came to realize that, the colonial power of Britain was fatally weakened and the concepts of self-determination and independent rule were brought in.
Adamu Adaku, one of the World War 2 veterans who died on December 31 , 2019, at the age of 114.