The African Soldiers of the First World War

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An online conversation with the Rt. Hon. David Lammy MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Shadow Lord Chancellor, and Professor Michèle Barrett, Professor of Modern Literary and Cultural Theory, Queen Mary, University of London, on the forgotten African soldiers who fought for Britain in the First World War. 

At 11am on the second Sunday in November, Britain holds Remembrance Sunday to commemorate its fallen soldiers. Up and down the country, crowds of people gather to pay their respects to those who fought at home and overseas. The soldiers who took part in the First and Second World Wars and other conflicts are widely recognised as heroes, people who fought for the freedom of their compatriots and fellow Europeans, and who hold a special place in our hearts.

Some British soldiers, however, do not receive the same amount of recognition as others. In this webinar, David Lammy and Professor Michèle Barrett will discuss the treatment and memorialisation of African soldiers after the First World War, and the campaign for them to receive the same level of recognition as their white counterparts.


The Rt. Hon. David Lammy MP is the Labour Member of Parliament for Tottenham. He has been the MP for his home constituency since 2000. Since entering Parliament, David served for nine years as a Minister in the Blair and Brown governments, in several departments including the Department of Constitutional Affairs, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills.

In January 2016, the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, asked David to lead an independent review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system. The Lammy Review was published in September 2017, and many of its recommendations continue to guide government policy to this day.

David led the campaign to guarantee the right of Commonwealth nationals impacted by the Windrush scandal, prompting the government to establish the Windrush Lessons Learned Review and compensation scheme. He has also been at the forefront of the struggle for justice for families impacted by the Grenfell Tower fire, helping to secure an independent inquiry, as well as compensation scheme for victims. In 2018, David was awarded Politician of The Year by The Political Studies Association and GQ Magazine, as well as Campaigner of The Year by The Spectator magazine.

In April 2020, David was appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Shadow Lord Chancellor.

Professor Michèle Barrett is Professor of Modern Literary and Cultural Theory, Queen Mary, University of London. She is a noted social theorist, a distinguished Virginia Woolf scholar and an expert on aspects of the social and cultural history of the First World War.

Having joined the Department of Sociology at City University, London in 1975 first as a Lecturer, then as Senior Lecturer, Michèle became Professor in the department in 1989. She was also Department Head between 1988 and 1994 and Director of a Centre for Research on Gender, Ethnicity and Social Change between 1990 and 1996. Before becoming Head of the School of English and Drama at Queen Mary in 2009, a post she held for a 4 year term, Michèle held various other roles. These include Director of Graduate Research and Convenor of the Modern MA at Queen Mary.

Since joining the English department at Queen Mary in 2000, Michèle has been awarded a Leverhulme Fellowship to study shell shock, and a British Academy grant to research the colonial politics of World War One commemoration. These research projects have led to various publications including a book entitled Casualty Figures: How Five Men Survived the First World War, published in 2007; an article considering the Freudianization of shell shock in Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy in Contemporary Literature (August 2012); and a book chapter published in 2014 entitled ‘”White Graves” and “Natives”: The Imperial War Graves Commission in East and West Africa’.

The event is moderated by Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Deputy Director General, RUSI.

Photo: Men of the King's African Rifles, 1916
National Army Museum

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