Sunday November 13, 2011 - Today is Remembrance Sunday in the United Kingdom - a day set aside to honour those who gave all, including their lives that others alive then and those yet to enter this beautiful world of ours may live. It is the ultimate show of care for humanity by men and women who would rather pay the supreme price than see mankind live in perpetual slavery and under the jackboots of repressive regimes including those of the RUF/AFRC coalition of evil in Sierra Leone.
The Sierra Herald joins people all over the world in celebrating the lives of the millions of men and women still alive today and the many many more who have gone to the great beyond in their fight against tyranny, injustice and the repression of God's own children whatever their religious inclination or nationality of origin.
Remembrance Sunday is a time to recall that the freedom which the free world, including Sierra Leone, enjoys today was won and continues to be won by the blood, sweat and tears of those who are willing to stand up to the might of repressive war machines starting from the World Wars to other campaigns still ongoing aimed at making life worth living for the helpless and hopeless crushed by oppressive forces.
On a day like today, Sierra Leoneans should join the phalanx of the proud, the freedom fighters of yore who stood up to the war machines of the Kaiser (World War I) and Hitler (World War II) with sons and daughters of the soil taking part in such bitter campaigns as were experienced in Cameroon, Burma and other spheres of conflict.
Stories abound of the bravery of Sierra Leoneans shipped off to wars by colonials who saw in them useful materials, either as carriers of logistics, soldiers or a combination of both as they took on the might of a cruel and unforgiving Japanese army in the jungles of Burma, the Germans in Cameroon, then a German occupied territory during the First World War and like the late Johnny Smythe serving as a navigator with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.
"On one occasion we were flying back over England when a German fighter began to dog us. I saw it first and yelled to the rear gunner, ‘Frank, open up!’ It was quite scary because we were flying so low that, had the plane been actually shot down, we wouldn’t have had time to bail out! The noise caused by the two aircraft brought our anti-aircraft fire from the ground, which fended off the German fighter, and we were able to land safely. Another lucky escape!"
There are many, many unnamed and unrecognised Sierra Leonean soldiers and contributors whose names have never made it to the record or history books and we doff our hats to these unknown soldiers from Sierra Leone praying that their sacrifice was not in vain and that our children would continue to be told of the contribution of our service men and woman as well as those civilians who helped in the fight against tyranny. It is also a time for Sierra Leoneans and friends of our one and only land that we love to remember and honour all those true and loyal soldiers who fell, those who remain with the scars, uncared for and unrecognised, in the battle against the forces of evil unleashed by Corporal Foday Sankoh of the Revolutionary United Front, the RUF, and in one combination of evil or the other against elements of the military who turned their guns against the civilians they are uniformed by and paid for to protect, preserve and respect.
Here, we bring you a brief on one Royal Air Force navigator, the late Johnny Smythe, QC as found on the Memorial Gates Trust website giving a glimpse into the contribution of Africa soldiers during the Second World War. His bomber crew was on a mission when his plane was hit.
""We were flying at 16,000 ft when the fighters came out of nowhere. They raked the fuselage and there were flames everywhere. Then the searchlights caught us. I was hit by shrapnel. Pieces came from underneath, piercing my abdomen, going through my side. Another came through my seat and into my groin. I heard the pilot ordering us to bail out. We had some rough ones before but this seemed to be the end."Johnny parachuted to the ground and hid in a barn:
"Men in uniform came into the barn where I was hiding behind some straw. Then they opened up, raking the place with automatic fire. I decided to give in. The Germans couldn’t believe their eyes. I’m sure that’s what saved me from being shot immediately. To see a black man – and an officer at that – was more than they could come to terms with. They just stood there gazing."
And it is also from the pages of this website that we know about campaigns in Togo, then known as TogolandTogoland (now Togo) was a German possession pre-1914 - a long thin country with the British-owned Gold Coast (now Ghana) as a western neighbour, French-owned Dahomey (now Benin) on the east, and the Bight of Benin to the south. Militarily speaking, Togoland had only one asset - a powerful radio station at Kamina, capable of transmitting news of Allied shipping or troop movements to German East or German South West Africa, or to Berlin. The West African Frontier Force (WAFF) had been formed by the British from units in their various West African colonies: nearly 14,000 from Nigeria, almost 10,000 from the Gold Coast. Sierra Leone contributed about 650 men, The Gambia some 350. To silence the radio station, WAFF forces from the Gold Coast and French troops from Dahomey invaded Togoland on the outbreak of war in August 1914. On 24 August the Kamina station was destroyed, and two days later the Germans surrendered power in Togoland.
On this BBC website is this account of the role of Africans in the Second World War
"Britain's colonies in West Africa, Gambia, Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and Nigeria also served as staging posts and military bases during World War Two. Aircraft destined for the 'Middle East' and the North African front had to fly via West Africa ,and were serviced there. Ships bound for India and the east, unable to use the Suez Canal, had to sail via the Cape, and were serviced and victualled at West African ports. This, of course, necessitated the employment of vast numbers in war work, for example, in building and maintaining airfields and naval bases. For example, the US military in Accra employed 6,000 men in construction and other war work. By December 1944 some 5,000 were enlisted in the West African Air Corps as groundcrew. A very small number served as aircrew with the RAF. The war also meant increased demands for raw materials, which were sometimes produced by forced labour. ...in all, some 166,500 Africans were involved in helping to defeat the Japanese. They, and most Indian troops, had to serve under British officers, as colonials were not thought to be 'officer material'.
Although the colour bar in the British services had been lifted for the duration of the war, in fact very few black men - or women - served in the British army, and none in the Royal Navy. With only two exceptions, even qualified black medical practitioners were refused. Although Churchill lifted the colour bar, he sent telegrams to every Embassy and High Commission, telling them to find 'adminstrative means' to reject black volunteers. In the US, black pilots and doctors who had offered to volunteer were refused, as a result of this instruction.
Among the specialist units provided by West Africa were four Medical Units, comprising orderlies trained by the West African Army Medical Corps. They were attached to British hospitals in Sicily and Italy. South Africans were also drawn into the war. The Native Military Corps were formed in 1940. They and the 'coloureds' in the South African Army were not trained in the use of firearms.
Let us make it a duty on a day like this to remind our sons and daughters and ourselves about the sacrifice of our soldiers and armed personnel who went into battle against the forces of evil - the RUF in the initial phase not having an inkling that within the ranks of the unit they served with loyalty were elements who were in league with the enemy, thus getting badly wounded, captured or killed by the rebels.
Paymasters of the army who survived to tell the tale know of what changes in plan they had to execute to escape ambush plans by rogue soldiers more interested in the money the paymasters were taking along to the front. We pay tribute to them.
When the war got to a stage where the army could just not cope, given the number of mysterious ambushes and setbacks being suffered, certain elements of the SSD, the armed wing of the APC were drafted in...some performed quite well and honestly while others joined like-minded criminals to unleash mayhem and havoc on civilians they were meant to protect.
There was the case of SSD man Stanley who left the comforts of his home in Brookfields in the west of the capital Freetown. The last time he was seen by a member of the Sierra Herald team was in the early 90's in Segbwema only three weeks later, to have reportedly fallen into an ambush organised by his rogue colleagues. He had openly criticised the looting and other unprofessional acts of his colleagues in the army. His body was never recovered.
The same could be said of many including one Tarawallie who as ADC to then Head of State Captain Valentine Strasser left the comforts of Kabasa Lodge and went with a team of Gurkhas to dislodge enemy forces around the Mile 91 area. He never came back to Freetown, nor was his body recovered as rebels took it away as a trophy of sorts.
There are the stories of many who got killed, not knowing how they got into the mess they found themselves.
We pray for the souls of all true freedom fighters.