Up to 350,000 predominantly Black and Asian personnel who died fighting for the British Empire were not properly commemorated due to “pervasive racism”, a report has found.
An investigation has discovered that at least 116,000 predominantly African and Middle Eastern First World War casualties “were not commemorated by name or possibly not commemorated at all”. According to the report obtained by the PA news agency, the figure could be as high as 350,000.
The investigation also estimated that between 45,000 and 54,000 Asian and African casualties were “commemorated unequally”, as white personnel had headstones but some Black and Asian troops were commemorated collectively or had their names recorded in registers.
The report also picked out an example from 1923 between the governor of the Gold Coast colony – now Ghana – F G Guggisberg and Arthur Browne from the Imperial War Graves Commission – the organisation tasked with commemorating those who died in the war.
At a meeting in London, governor F G Guggisberg, argued for collective memorials and said: “The average native of the Gold Coast would not understand or appreciate a headstone.”
In response, Arthur Browne said: “In perhaps two or three hundred years’ time, when the native population had reached a higher stage of civilisation, they might then be glad to see that headstones had been erected on the native graves and that the native soldiers had received precisely the same treatment as their white comrades.”
The report concluded that the failure to properly commemorate the individuals was “influenced by a scarcity of information, errors inherited from other organisations and the opinions of colonial administrators”.
“Underpinning all these decisions, however, were the entrenched prejudices, preconceptions and pervasive racism of contemporary imperial attitudes,” it added.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has apologised over its findings.
Labour MP David Lammy tweeted: “No apology can ever make up for the indignity suffered by The Unremembered.
“However, this apology does offer the opportunity for us as a nation to work through this ugly part of our history – and properly pay our respects to every soldier who has sacrificed their life for us.”