Thousands of British minority soldiers have not been honoured in World Wars I and II.
Black and Asian soldiers in the British military have never had the same advantages as their white counterparts, and their deaths have not been honoured due to racism in the British Army. This is despite their service and sacrifices in World Wars I and II.
One Hundred Years of racism in the British Army
Black soldiers have been part of British military history since the Army was permanently formed in the 17th century. Also, their involvement increased significantly in the 19th century. However, British history books are mostly silent on the assistance of black soldiers in World War I. Thus it is often thought that this was a European war fought exclusively by white European soldiers.
The mainstream media also seldom discusses or acknowledges non-European participation during the war. However, there were large numbers of black soldiers. Moreover, many men from black communities in the British colony joined the British military actions.
After World War I, troops from African countries such as Nigeria and the Gold Coast were recruited by the British Army and played an essential role in the struggle to oust the Germans from Africa. But even with their courage and commitment, black soldiers often suffered from racial prejudice.
By the end of the war in November 1918, the BWIR had formed twelve battalions, and about 16,000 black volunteers had enlisted. Because of racism in the British Army, they received lower salaries and fewer benefits than their white compatriots.
These soldiers were also used as non-combatants in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and parts of Europe. They had to spend most of their time in hard labour, such as loading ammunition, laying telephone wires and digging trenches and were not allowed to fight.
In addition, during World War II, massive numbers of men from across the British colony registered to join the war. There were coloured stripes in the British Armed Forces that divided people by colour or race and the right to access to equal rights, opportunities and facilities.
World War II caused a notable increase in black people living and working in Britain. This also led to existing black communities in Britain being strengthened by the arrival of volunteer workers. Although this is the portrayal of Britain as a nation of diverse races, a first glance, the focus on the British Armed Forces during and after the war shows the reality of the government behaviour and racism in the British Army.
Racism in the payment of the Black soldiers salaries
A study of a document in the British National Archives has revealed that the British military, in systematic discrimination against African soldiers, pays higher salaries to its white personnel, even to those who lived in African colonies and served alongside their African peers in British colonial units.
The document was uncovered by the makers of a documentary for Al Jazeera English’s People and Power series. It reveals that Britain paid its soldiers not only according to their rank and length of service but also the colour of their skin.
In this regard, Al Jazeera’s research shows that a white soldier can earn up to 10 shillings per month of service, while only payment of three and a half shillings is offered to a black soldier of the same rank.
In the meantime, in the first half of the twentieth century, The British Army hired black soldiers to protect British colonies on the continent and beyond. During World War II, these troops reinforced Allied forces to defeat the Italians in the Horn of Africa and fight the Imperial Japanese soldiers under desperate conditions throughout Burma.
There was also racism against Asian military personnel. Regardless of the rank of the British troops in the Asian Army, they all earned seven and a half shillings per month of military service. However, this amount was lower than their white counterparts and was much higher than their black peers.
British racism on Remembrance Sunday
Another recent report in The Guardian shows that the white soldiers in Britain are being commemorated on various occasions.
Statistics released by the Commonwealth Graves Commission indicate that at least 116,000 to 350,000 victims, primarily African and Asian, fought and died for the British monarchy in World War I. They were even deprived of having a tombstone.
The Commission acknowledged the wrongdoing inflicted on British soldiers of racial minorities and the racism in the British Army, saying They thought that the communities from which these men came would not Recognize and value such forms of commemoration.
But the Commission later confessed that “Underpinning all these decisions, however, were the entrenched prejudices, preconceptions and pervasive racism of contemporary imperial attitudes”.
Regarding this, Johnson apologized on behalf of the government. He said the millions of soldiers from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Middle East had provided an “immense” contribution “in their courage and valour. Many paid the ultimate price so that we might live in peace and freedom today”.
Last word, the current situation
Meghan Markle, the American member of the British royal and the wife of Prince Harry (grandson of the Queen of England), has recently accused the royal family and Buckingham Palace of racism and lying in an interview.
Prince Harry’s wife says that before the birth of her child, the royal family was very concerned about the dark colour of her baby’s skin. Given that Megan’s mother is black, the royal family had worries about Archie’s skin colour. Prince Harry’s wife says the same concerns show why his son was denied the title of prince.
Surveys reveal that more than half of the British ethnic and racial minorities consider the British royal family racist.
With the publication of the Strategic Defense Review in 1998 by the British government, the British military started to alter and attempt to reduce its egregious cases of racist discrimination. This has become especially significant since the assassination of George Floyd.
A large proportion of ethnic minority military service is still done outside the United Kingdom, with more than 50 per cent of British-born ethnic minority personnel serving abroad. This conveys that traditional structures still exist in the modern Army of this country.
The 2021 Integrated Review and Defence Command Paper show that Britain is looking forward to reducing the number of its soldiers. Suppose the British Army wants to maintain its capabilities and reduce its troops. In that case, it is essential to work on reducing racism in the British Army and building unity and balanced ethnic relations to be reorganized and more professional.
In such a manner, the British military leaders will be able to define individuals based on the role they play and their executive achievements, not their racial background.