a1 Goldsmiths' College
Britain maintained small colonial armed forces in the African territories for internal security and local defence. In four periods of international crisis, when the British Empire was faced with a shortage of military manpower, it was proposed that African troops be used in imperial roles outside Africa. These proposals were closely related to the increasing opposition by India to the Indian Army being used for imperial defence in Asia and the Middle East. During 1916–18 a parliamentary and press lobby in Britain clamoured for a ‘million black army’. In the years 1919–21 the War Office attempted to raise an African army for use in the Middle East. On both occasions the Colonial Office vigorously opposed these schemes and the crises were resolved without using African troops. The emergencies of 1939–42 changed Colonial Office policy. African troops were used in the East African campaign against the Italians, as labour units in the Middle East, and then, after 1943, as combatants in Asia where they fought as complete formations within the Commonwealth forces. At the end of the Second World War the Colonial Office wished to maintain a sizeable African army at Imperial expense. However, post-war defence cuts reduced the African armed forces although a small parliamentary and service lobby unsuccessfully urged that an African Army be created as an imperial instrument, and to take the place of the Indian Army.
* A version of this paper was given to the seminar on ‘Colonial Rule and Local Response’, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London, in November 1978. I am grateful to the Research Committee of Goldsmiths' College for a grant which has assisted the research for this paper.