This disparity can be explained by racist accounts shared in the report. In 1920, an official who worked with the CWGC in East Africa, said “while some 50,000 members of the Military Labour Corps had died, no marks of identity had ever been placed over their graves,” the report wrote.
The official “also noted that ‘most of the natives who have died are of a semi-savage nature’ and that the ‘erection of individual headstones would constitute a waste of public money,'” the report said.
Other racist statements by colonial administrators included one by a West African colonial governor who stated that “the average native of the Gold Coast would not understand or appreciate a headstone.”
Therefore, the report found that the omissions were caused by several contributing factors, including scarcity of information, errors inherited by other organizations and the opinions of colonial administrations. “Underpinning all these decisions,” it wrote, “were the entrenched prejudices, preconceptions and pervasive racism of contemporary imperial attitude.”
The report was written by a group of independent experts who were commissioned by the CWGC in 2019 to analyze the non-commemoration of war casualties. The inquiry was ordered in the aftermath of a critical Channel 4 TV documentary about the issue in East Africa.
Campaigners have long complained that the substantial contributions of Black and Asian colonial subjects to Britain’s 20th century war efforts have been whitewashed in popular history and culture.
As the report writes, Britain’s victory in World War I came at the cost of more than 800,000 British deaths and an estimated 500,000 casualties among non-White colonial subjects.
“For example, the Indian Army alone provided more than 1.2 million men, with its soldiers deployed to all the main theatres of the war,” the report writes, adding that “British forces may have employed upwards of 50,000 African soldiers and probably in excess of one million African carriers in the same fighting.”
It adds that an equally large proportion of colonial subjects were coerced into fighting for the empire. “Egypt alone, it has been suggested that around 75% of the 327,000 men who served were recruited forcibly,” it wrote.