The massacres committed by the Axis forces have been well documented and publicized. Children are taught about the crimes, and historians have written books detailing the horrors.
But one crime barely mentioned is the horrific massacre of West African derailleurs, committed by the nation they had risked their lives to defend and protect. Many people need to be aware of this shameful act of betrayal committed by French officers against African veterans.
During WW2, colonial governments in Africa conscripted Africans to fight against the Axis forces. 80,000 alone came from French colonies in black Africa. A sizable number were from Senegal so the African forces were known as the Senegalese tirailleurs.
Their dedication to duty and bravery on the battlefield was well known with many even fighting in the French Resistance.
On May 10, 1940, Germany invaded France and by June, France had been captured. Thousands of French and African soldiers were taken prisoner. The French soldiers were sent to POW camps in Germany but the Africans were imprisoned in France, as the Nazis racial ideology frowned at “racially impure” people in their “sacred” land.
The same racist ideology led them to massacre more than 1000 African POWs.
Those imprisoned were subjected to harsh inhumane treatment for four years until the liberation of France in 1944.
On November 5, 1944, 1600 tirailleurs were sent by ship to Dakar, Senegal, arriving sixteen days later. They were then taken and housed at Camp Thiaroye, a French military base, where they would be demobilized before being sent to their respective villages. Living conditions were uncomfortable and worse still the French government was trying to cheat them, refusing to pay their full demobilization wage offering them half what was owed, while their white colleagues were being paid in full.
Naturally, the African troops were angry and when the time came for some of them to go to Bamako, Mali they refused to leave unless they were given their due.
Rather than the French government to desist from their disgraceful act, they accused the soldiers of mutiny and sent the French Regional Brigadier, Marcel Dagnan to visit the camp.
Whether due to arrogance or stupidity, Dagnan was shocked that men who had endured, physical and psychological suffering fighting for his country, were angry at now being cheated by the same country.
Dagnan returned to his troops and immediately ordered an assault force to be formed to deal with the “rebellious” African troops.
On the morning of December 1, 1944, the National Gendarmerie, backed by 3 Regiments of Senegalese Tirailleurs, armored cars, and an M3 steward tank entered the camp.
Each side gives conflicting accounts of what took place next, but what is known is the French assault force massacred 400 unarmed African veterans, whose only crime was demanding their rights. In 1945, 34 surviving protesters were tried and convicted of mutiny receiving 1-10 years in jail. The families of the slain men received neither, the compensations owed to their husbands nor the pensions due to widows of fallen soldiers.
The dead were not even given a befitting burial and were buried in a mass grave.
The Thiaroye Massacre is not taught in French schools or written in their history books a film made about the incident, Camp de Thiaroye was censored in France, and France has never properly apologized for their actions.
This betrayal and injustice has never been addressed.
African soldiers who gave everything fighting for a country that turned around to murder them have never received any recognition.
The African veterans survived death and brutality at the hands of their enemies only to be brutally slain by the enemy within.