The general absence of colonial troops fighting in the British Civil War (with the exception of Wynd-Grator's force in the Channel Islands) can perhaps be explained by the story of the West Indian/West African Fusiliers - the 'Wifwafs'.
As fighting erupted in Britain, it became clear to the government that the Dominions would have their hands full preventing localised civil wars and would be unable to support the King to such an extent as they did during the Great War. The forces of the Raj would be similarly occupied, facing not just the threat of nationalism, but also the possibility of Soviet and Japanese belligerence.
Nonetheless, it was generally agreed that the British Empire should be seen to be actively supporting the King, thus giving the impression of imperial unity, not only to other nations, but also to subjects of His Majesty across the globe.
It was then that the Secretary of State for the Colonies hit upon an idea: why not organise a small, loyal fighting force from Britain's Caribbean and African territories? A 'coloured' unit would not only act as a symbol of Imperial solidarity, but also counteract the King's 'Fascist' reputation.
To this end volunteers were called up from the West Indies and West Africa to form the West Indian/West African Fusiliers. The plan was to give recruits rudimentary drill training by British officers during the sea voyage to a 'collection point' at Gibraltar before shipping the unit to a government-held port in the UK, where they would receive equipment and weaponry.
However the plan was flawed from the start. Many did indeed volunteer, but others were press-ganged by plantation owners or, in the case of West Africa, local chieftains, in the hope of currying favour with the local governor. The authorities had also reckoned without the influence of Anglican League inspired missionaries, who almost as soon as the civil war started had began to preach against the King and Mosley in isolated villages and churches.
Moreover when the 'Wifwafs', already demoralised and heartily seasick, reached British shores, they found themselves kitted out with obsolete equipment and antique rifles. The promised 'smart' uniform consisted of nothing more than an ill-fitting suit of cheap brown or grey corduroy and a shapeless grey slouch hat.
Even worse, in a move of either crass stupidity or treacherous cunning, they were then attached to a BUF auxiliary unit, who gave their new comrades a less-than-hearty welcome before sending them to the nearest front line with picks, shovels and orders to dig trenches for their 'superiors'.
Feeling let-down by the authorities and in increasing contact with Anglican League agents, the 'Wifwafs' quickly denounced the King, shot their BUF overseers and deserted en-masse to the nearest Anglican force, with whom they fight until conditions are right for them to return to their far-away homes across the British Empire.
Wednesday, 10 August 2011
Some more musings of mine from the GWP...