A wounded Senegalese prisoner of war is carried to a bandaging station, November 1914

A wounded Senegalese prisoner of war is carried to a bandaging station, November 1914

Note on reverse (see below) dated 28.11.1914. One of a series of pictures taken by a German orderly at a first-aid station located in Etterbeek (one of the nineteen municipalities located in the Brussels-Capital Region of Belgium).

In WW1 many of the Senagalese and other colonial troops fought with incredible valour and great sacrifice. Here is an account I discovered a while back whilst looking for some material to caption this picture:


In the morning of 16th April 1917, more than 15,000 Senegalese Infantrymen launched an assault on the ridges above the Chemin des Dames. Paralysed by the biting cold, they were mown down by the German machine guns which should have been destroyed during the days of shelling that had preceded the attack. In one day 16th April more than 1,400 ‘Senegalese’ died in the conquest of the Mont des Singes, to save the farms of Moisy and Hurtebise and on the hillsides of Ailles.

Those men we call the ‘Senegalese Infantrymen’ who fought in the 14-18 war were in fact from all of the countries that were former French occidental colonies, i.e. Senegal, The Ivory Coast, Benin, Guinea, Mali, Burkina-Faso, Niger and Mauritania. Most of these territories had been under French colonial rule for less than 30 years. The conquest of Dahomey (now Benin) goes back to 1892-1893 for example. With a few rare exceptions, these men from the African continent who came to defend the Republic of France had no civil rights and most could hardly speak any French.

1917 was the year which saw a massive influx of Senegalese Infantrymen. The enormous losses since 1914 made the intervention of the colonials from Occidental French Africa indispensable. More than 50,000 were recruited in 1915-1916, often unceremoniously, and at a price of thousands of deaths and hundreds of villages raised to the ground, in particular in what is now known as Burkina Faso. This provoked what historian Marc Michel has called the ‘greatest colonial revolution in French Black Africa.

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