23 November 2018

The first and the last - CWGC marks end of First World War in Africa

The 100th anniversary of one of the lesser known events of the First World War will be commemorated this weekend (25 November) at a CWGC memorial in Mbala, Zambia.

The CWGC's Abercorn Memorial, recently refurbished by our staff in Africa, marks the rough location in modern day Mbala, where German forces laid down their arms in November 1918 - an event which finally brought to an end the First World War in Africa.

The memorial features two plaques commemorating the historic event and more than 430 Africans who died in the war but whose names are not known.

Some of the first and very last shots of the First World War were fired in Africa, as German forces fought an effective guerrilla campaign that tied down a much larger Allied force for the duration of the conflict. German forces were initially unaware of the armistice - only learning of its signing on 14 November. It took their depleted force a further ten days to march to Abercorn where they formally surrendered on 25 November.

Hundreds of thousands of Africans took part in the campaign, and sadly true casualty figures may never be known, but the CWGC commemorates their contribution and sacrifice at memorials and cemeteries across the continent.

Over the last four years, the CWGC has undertaken major restoration work at a number of sites in Africa - particularly on the Memorials to the Missing in Nairobi, Mombasa, Dar es Salaam and Abuja - that commemorate African troops and carriers who died during the East and West African campaign and have no known grave. The memorials at Abuja and Mombasa are complete with work well underway at Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

Statue Cleaning

Each memorial is topped by magnificent bronze statues - sculpted by James Alexander Stevenson, under the pseudonym 'Myrander', and cast in 1931 by the London foundry Morris-Singer - that represent the unique make-up of the forces serving in each country.

3D scans were taken of the memorials' sculptures and plaques to create a permanent digital record of them, and to help manufacture elements of the sculptures in need of repair.

3D Scanning

Richard Hills, CWGC Director Africa and Asia Pacific Area, said: "Few people would realise that the First World War in Africa did not end on 11 November 1918. The events at our memorial in Mbala this weekend provide a poignant opportunity to pause, and remember all those who served and died during the First World War in Africa.

"As the war passes into distant memory, so our memorials take on added importance as physical reminders of the human cost of that conflict and focal points for our remembrance of those who died.

"I am hugely proud of the work our staff in Africa have done to restore these important monuments - work that will keep them fitting tributes for decades to come."

The CWGC memorials at Nairobi, Mombasa, Dar es Salaam and Abuja were built to honour the service and sacrifice of African troops and followers who died with the Commonwealth forces during the First World War.

The memorials take a similar form, with bronze statues depicting the various roles of the African forces. As no complete record of names exists, no names appear on the memorials.