#Article (Archive)

In the run-up to the duration of World War II, The Gambia direct

Jan 5, 2010, 1:27 PM | Article By: Alhagie Ba Tarawally

In the run-up to the duration of World War II, The Gambia directly or otherwise played a significant role in The defeat of Nazi - Germany This is the trust of our story before we get into the details of our assertion we must take our readers on a journey through the lane of history, starting from the end of the World War I. The German lost the 1914/18 war and had to be punished not for starting the war but for losing it. War warriors are not normally asked to pay reparations. The measures taken included the seizure of all her colonies and shared amongst the victors. The Colonies included Burundi Tanganyika, South West Africa, Cameroon and Togo. The lion share went to Britain, the leader of the victors and the chief distributor assigning Tanganyika to herself and south West Africa, half of Cameroon and half of Togo land dubbed mandated territories and ruled by Britain on behalf of the League of Nations. France was assigned part of Cameroon and Togo land, added to its large chunk of land in West and Central Africa.

Belgium, a mini-state was assigned Burundi and Rwanda, added to its huge land mass of Congo. Italy, Spain and Portugal all had colonies of their own, traveling freely to and from these colonies without hindrance and with powers to impose laws relating to tax, politics, administration, Labor, Trade and Immigration. Whilst Germany was isolated and had nothing. We borrow a Wolof saying? Why are tears running from the eyes of a dog? Is it for fact to say that tears were at that time running from the eyes of the Germans? Every European country sees itself as worthy if its salt only if it maneuvers to have a foothold - Africa under whatever guise. Africa is the land of Eldorado. Being away from Africa tends to give the feeling to a European country with no presence there in as if others are away all the way taking wealth, leaving nothing for it. This is why every war in Europe explicitly expressed or not, has an imperial agenda as its ultimate goals. Even if it is a war between African countries themselves, European countries stand alert to fan and aggravate it by taking sides as a way of increasing their own influence.

This is what President Franklin Roosevelt knew when he out of hand dismissed the 1939 war as imperial and refusing to get involved. But the remark is like the pot calling the kettle black for America itself had at his backyard, the whole of Latin America, guaranteed to it as sphere of influence by the MONROE DOCTRINE. America was therefore, not interested in the European struggle for colonial territories. Russia, a European power had an empire, encompassing a large chunk of Asian land. So which European nation then as well as never interested in colonies or sphere of influence in Africa? Germany seemed to have been the Cinderella, a situation terribly difficult for her. Nonetheless she managed to persuade the British to allow her to have presence of some sorts in British colonies. This was allowed and permission was granted to the Germans to start some activities. This gesture was far from being enough for the Germans who continued to feel the pain of the loss of their colonies and their absorption by Britain and others. They were determined by whatever means to reverse the conditions imposed on them after the 1914 - 18 war and to recover territories lost and to return to Africa with head up and restored dignity. And whilst working towards this goal, they reconciled themselves to what was available. Taking what they had until they get what they had wanted. They never got what they wanted, for they lost the 1939 war too. The victors too lost all their colonies after the war, giving fact to the Wolof saying, let me in to join the club or else, I will destroy it.

At the time there in Fajara was what was called GERMAN HOUSE. As there has been no news about it after World War II, there was doubt whether in actual fact the house did exist. And if it did, what was its status, residential, guesthouse, office/business, rented on basis of tenancy. The owner? These questions have not been answered. Nothing clear has emerged about the House since the end of the war. What is clear is on the other hand was land was granted to the Germans to build an airport. The first known airport built in this country. It was built at the environ of Old Jeshwang. This airport turned out to be the epic-center of the coordination, transit route and the link of the German air communication network with Africa, Latin America and Berlin. The activities in this country by the Germans were brought to a stop by the turbulent situation of international politics, worsened by the threat of war. And on the eve of the war, the Germans assembled almost all the African operatives from East and elsewhere in Africa to the Gambia for evacuation to Berlin. They never made it to their destination. For the plane upon taking-off and flying a few hundreds of yards, hit a tree and burst into flames, crash landing , killing all passengers and crew. This was a serious setback for the Germans, for almost all their people with knowledge of Africa got lost in that disaster. It is believed that Gambia was the first scene of German causalities of World War II. On 3rd September 1939 Britain inevitably formalised the declaration of war with Germany. The atmosphere and the mood of the Gambians at the outbreak of the war were normal. The country was never moved and made jittery by its geographical position, being surrounded in three parts by occupied territories whose governments were loyal to the Vicky Government of Paris endorsed by Hitler. The Security situation of Bathurst had never been in doubt.

The British moved quickly to put a lot of things in place to assure the masses of a secure and safe place. This was manifested in many ways. The evidence will be presented as the story unfolds. As a result, a congenial and optimistic atmosphere reigned to make everyone even aliens, white as well as black feeling secure and safe. There was peace and safety. Gambia was a safe haven for all. Among the several signs that the country's security was reliable was its hosting of President Franklin Roosevelt of USA, a leading figure among the ally countries. On his way to Rabat for summit with Churchill and Joseph Starling and others, he spent time in Bathurst to make sure the coast was clear before resuming his journey. At the time the Atlantic Ocean was infested with enemy warships and plans. This visit if anything convinced us that The Gambia's security was not in doubt. Nobody now knows how many big-wigs at the time used The Gambia as a stop on their way North/South and vice versa. The war never frightened the people of this country for there was and this is a continuous thing to hear people talk about war; the narrators of our history called griots have been talking about wars which had taken place in and around the Senegambia region. Small as the area is, there were more than half a dozen war lords, each within a particular area, with their own agenda. These were Maba Jaxu Ba, Biran Ceesay, Sait Matty, Musa Molloh, Fode Kabba Dumbuya, Kombo Sillah, Axooni Sait Kani Touray and Nderi. Kani Touray and Gumbo Gaye. These represented the whole tribal composition and geographical area each representing a tribe and an interest. There was hardly a family that escaped the brunt of those wars, waged by the warlords. Every individual family up to this day listens to stories of the heroic deeds of fighters of those days, in most cases those listening may be grandsons/granddaughters of those heroes. These narratives are always a gratification and inspiration to young ones. As a result, no Gambia is afraid of war. A case in point is the war in Bissau.This was fought by some volunteers from the Gambia. The 1939 war found Gambians mentally and psychologically ever ready. For they longed to do what their grandfathers did in the past. This war mentality was reflected in their reaction to declaration of War. The manifestation of loyalty to king and country. The commitment to the course of war by the young as well as old, all offered themselves to defend their own country but also served wherever their services were needed, giving an account of their valor and courage as reflected in their exemplary actions in the jungle in Burma where together with other African soldiers they were taken to fight the Japanese.

That is not all. The people of The Gambia voluntarily raised funds donated to the war efforts for the building of a large naval ship, named H.M.S Gambia. The ship survived the causalities of the war and was brought here at the beginning of the 2000s as a last visit before being decommissioned. Another contribution made by the masses of The Gambia was to have raised voluntarily by private efforts, money to finance the building of a spit fire fighter plane to join the fight against Nazi Germany. Food and clothing in big supply. No famine and no shortage of clothing materials. Rice, traditionally grown in this country and was available to the farmers in the protectorate, was however in short supply were supplied for consumption with a particular type of grain called KRAK wheat. This was promptly rejected as alien and unfamiliar and no adequate information existed of how to cook it. As a result, Sheikh Omar Fye and other leaders intervened, and nipped trouble in the bud. These leaders helped to stage cooking demonstrations to give women an idea as to how to cook it.The country was not short of rice. There was enough in the stores. Some privileged civilians also benefited from that stock reserved for the armed forces. At the time there was everywhere photo of a soldier, a propaganda stunt eating balanced diet with the slogan. ?Crack for victory." There is also the common saying that soldiers match on their stomachs. A service man had to eat well to feel strong and fit to meet any emergency. The soldiers had more than enough to eat and were helping to feed civilians The supply of fish and meat was regular. Almost every house directly or indirectly benefited from the ration of the military, the source. The principal cattle dealer was a Mauritanian, named Taxi. How the deal was struck would never be known to outsiders, what is known was cattle in drove were brought here on regular basis.

Another thing not known was the unit used for measuring the value of a cow. For there was no common currency as a legal tender that existed between The Gambia and the occupying territories and the fate of CFA if it existed at the time must have been shrouded in obscurity . It is believed that the transaction was conducted in the ancient trade fashion of the barter system. Employment Opportunities and Socials. There was full employment, the opportunity to make money existed every where. Local contractors over-night turned wealth to do and affluent spending money as if the source would never dry. The social and cultural aspects of life and the world of music and dance all flourishing. These included the Wolof Sabaars, the Madinka Seruba, the guitar band and other forms of entertainment all ready to perform. Adding to the local was Konkoma Siko drums of the soldiers from the Gold Coast and elsewhere. Also present was a large contingent of whites in the army, navy and air force all contributing their own cultural and social forms of entertainment, turning Bathurst into a cultural meeting point Bathur Primet Street bar, owned by the Sawyer family .

There was one at the McCarthy Square run by the military. But the big one run by the military was the one operated by what was called navy. Army, Air Force (NAAF) this was at Wellington Street, patronised usually by crews of naval ships that arrived here for a short visit. Not more than three or four days. Such crews were always in a hurry when they got to shore to help themselves with cool beer and drank to excess, quarreled amongst themselves whilst others went down town sight seeing. Those sailors who quarreled usually ended up singing whilst being matched to their ships by military police that were always about ready to stop trouble. No member of the armed forces were ever threatened or attacked. The atmosphere was always congenial, having an effect on everybody civilian as well as armed men all the time in good mood. In this, the psychologist, propagandist, those who claimed temperament, responsible for information and discipline of the people of the country all played significant roles in stabilising the mental position of  all, more so the soldiers, thousands of whom have come to join the Gambians to maintain peace and be prepared to travel to the far East. To the soldiers such a situation was necessary to make them feel good and not all the time brooding over the idea of war, shooting and killing, whilst all these activities were going on the auxiliary units and installation of the War Office had to be created. 

The Auxiliary Police: the office was created when war broke out, civilians recruited to help enforce the black-out order imposed on Bathurst residents to avoid fire/light of any kind being seen from far and or near as a way of protecting the town from enemy night air raids. They were also asked to help the civilian population in time of emergency. These are different from the regular Police Force; these were still operating within their own areas of competence. Auxiliary police are not now seen performing. But the call exists and can be called upon to render service anytime.

Air Raid Shelters: These were built all over the town of Bathurst. One was sited near Bethel Church in Soldier Town to provide shelters for Bathurstians when threatened with air raid from an enemy plane. The precaution was well advised as on two occasions, both on Sundays, and in broad-day light, planes coming from the direction of the South, predominantly enemy zone flying at high altitudes flew over Bathurst and were greeted with heavy barrage of anti aircraft guns. The planes went away but weeks later the information in the grapevine was that both were hit and crash landed around the Funjung.

Water tank a concrete wall built in many parts of the town filled with water as a standby to extinguish any fire created by enemy bomb.

The observatory and monitoring officer watched the movement and the activities of the people in the country. Such an office was advisable as that time to the present time, foreigners have always formed a large part of our population.

The staff comprised expatriates and Gambians. The Gambia staff was exemplary. Outwitting the secret service cadre of the enemy, and being able to travel by land from Bathurst to Freetown unnoticed and able to create cells to and fro. Their successes amazed their expatriated seniors.

At the home front, they netted and arrested in a master piece operation some senior citizens (names withheld.) These were suspected of having links with friends and co-workers - foreigners, shadowed and trapped in exchanging written communication. They were all taken to and kept at Campama at the time prisoners of war camp.

A Broadcasting and Information Service was established and headquartered at the time what was called Secretariat the seat of Government. This office kept the people of Bathurst informed about development at the war fronts air, land and sea.

McCarthy Square and the area around it was the meeting point for listening. Down Town, at Soldier Town, there was a listening post at the intersection of Stanley Street and Louvel Square.

There was a radio set in the house of Master Bolingbroke Fowlis. He was among the few that had radio sets and relayed the news and through a loud speaker, made it heard in his catchment area.

The military built their own hospital at Fajara, called 55 General Hospital to service the needs of the armed forces. That hospital was not scrapped as other military structures after the war. It was handed over to Gambia government, financed jointly by the Gambia and British tax payers, originally solely for research and later research and medication, called Medical Research Council (MRC).

Leman Street:
he office has multiple purposes, serving as a listening post and contact point with Degualle supporters in Senegal, Mali, Guinea and Gabon. And centre for recruiting volunteers to fight on the side of Degualle.

Readers will have noted that time has been spent talking about the installation of ancillary arms of the local war office most of which had never had presence in The Gambia, and as new comers, building had to be established and places had to be found as a home and people had to be trained to serve in this new establishment.

Having said all we know about the establishment of the ancillary sector, we will now say something about the establishment of military installations. Before the war, The Gambia had an army with headquarter and barracks at Fajara, the only known military establishment at the time. Fajara had been home to all the soldiers of that time. Now with the outbreak of war, the size of the army had to expand and other barracks, garrisons and fortifications established to make the country secure. The whole country, Bakau, Jeshwang, Brikama, Bintang, Barra, Essau, up to Kerewan, going all the way to the Upper River Division all had military camps.

In addition to the army, two new elements, the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, previously unknown in this country, now came to play their own part in the war. A place had to be found for them. The result was to claim part of the residential area, of Half-Die and uprooted its residents, among whom was the immortalised Sheikh Burama Jobarteh with his Darra, a learning centre where several Bathurstians were introduced to Koranic education.

The area seized encompassed, the entirety of what was called the Victoria Embankment, its sea-board and the entire area now, called Wharfimangago, stretching all the way to Hagan Street, accommodating the RAF Headquarters, Squadrons, Hangers and other facilities, making the seawater safe as a take-off and landing sport for the Sunderland planes based in Bathurst.

Wellington Street:

Here the Royal navy had its Headquarter, called the Admiralty. Here a lot of young Gambians were encouraged to join the Navy. Side by side with the local personnel, there were Royal Navy gun boats called M.L. whose home was Bathurst. These were also helping in the protection of Bathurst. But they had bigger and a more challenging responsibilities which we will deal with later.

The military, army, navy and air force all now found their homes and having settled down began working in accordance with orders and rulers. Now the next stage is action, military action.

While the army kept watch at the borders and a large part dispatched to the far East to Fight the Japanese, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, based in Bathurst had Identical roles of mounting frequent reconnaissance missions to keep watch over the Atlantic Ocean and take action if need be. The calm and peace enjoyed by the Senegambia area were disturbed by sudden explosion of continuous barrage of Bombardment of the Dakar sea port by Ally Naval gun boats. Marking the beginning of a high profile military action with a neighbor of The Gambia.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill expressed disappointment and Avenged Defiance.

The first military action of major dimension near the border of the Gambia took place at the sea port of Dakar. This followed in the wake of the disappointment faced by Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. He revealed to the British House of Common his efforts for the control of a large French Naval ship called Richelieu which at the time of the fall of France to the Nazis, was at the Dakar sea port. He said he made efforts to authorities to send the ship to report to the nearest English Speaking port. The Dakar authorities refused to comply.

The British did not forgive and forget for the week/months later two big ally naval ship unexpectedly showed up at the Dakar port. They were coolly received. Ship acted provocatively in an attempt to lure the port authorities into conflict. There was no response, avoiding as best as possible to give cause for actions. This stance however did not help them after more than twenty hours, the ship began cruising and demonstrating. Yet there was no response from the port authorities. The ships then turned their sterns as if they were saying good by, departing for good, when they opened fire causing casualties and damaged properties.

The reader will no doubt understand the nearest English speaking port referred to without being named was Bathurst.

The Battle for control of the Atlantic high seas

This battle which played a significant role in weakening the naval power of the Germans happened when a Bathurst based small naval ship called the Ajax caught up with Graspy, the largest German naval ship at the high seas of the Atlantic.

The Germans threw the Atlantic high seas several of their naval ships including the Graspy to seize the control of the Atlantic ocean, believed to be the sea route via which Great Britain was getting its supplies of raw materials and the route was sending supplies to its colonial territories. As a result the Germans were determined to destroy the ally naval ships in the ocean to control the sea way, cut Britain's supply lines and starve it to death. For the fulfillment of this mission, the German's stationed permanently the Graspy, CRUISING between Southern America, eastern sea board and West Africa, the whole seaboards of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Graspy at this time registered a resounding success destroying all ally ships, killing and capturing all surviving crews and plying proudly and majestically on the high seas as if it was the master of the Atlantic ocean. It had been a danger to all ally ships. And whether a trap was laid for it and a small ship used as a cannon fodder to lure it to danger, this will never be know. What is clear is that one day the ship headed towards its waterloo. This incident brings to mind the biblical story of David and Goliath. Ajax in this case is the David, and Graspy is Goliath. As Ajax left its home port of Bathurst for the Atlantic Ocean for a mission on high seas, it caught sight of ship the Goliath. It had proof that it was an enemy ship. It did not waste time. It immediately opened fire. Whilst doing so it raised the alarm, calling on all the ally ship in area for reinforcement. The Graspy replied and the fire fight began. Ajax was in no time reinforced and the battle took a new dimension. The Graspy had to contend with a fleet of ships but managed to hit Ajax.

But not serious enough to sink it on the spot. Ajax then cruised quickly back to Bathurst to avoid sinking in the high seas, leaving behind enough ally ships to finish the battle, whilst it carried out repairs at the port. As more ships arrived and the exchange got fiercer, the situation became more unbearable for the Graspy. Seeing the only way opened to it was to take to its heel. It then fled and was chased. It entered the Uruguan sea port of Montevideo in Southern America for sanctuary. This allowed the Graspy a small breathing space. It did not solve its problem.

As more ally ships arrived, stopping short of entering the port, but stealing it off stopping exit and entrance into it. The ally ships by refraining to enter the port in pursuit of the Graspy were observing an international law which guarantees a number of hours to a belling rant seeking sanctuary. After the time limit, the belligerent should surrender or be forced to quit. Whilst the hand of the clock moved tick tock, nearing the time allowed by law, the Graspy, having been facing some pressure from Uruguay to quit their port. The Graspy lifted its anchor and moved a few hundred yards and on the orders of the furher, scuttled itself, killing hundreds of sailors ending the battle for the Atlantic. At the V.E. day, big demonstrations mounted by the people of Bathurst converged around the McCarthy Square, the area of the seat of government to express solidarity and joy for the victory.

Have our fathers, brothers failed the King and country? 

Have they not discharged their duty? Gambia is ever ready to stand by the side of the British.

This brings to the end our story about the role played by the Gambia in the defeat of Nazi German.

The next issue will address the question of the management of our natural resources. Look forward to it.