Guest Contributor: Sara Dilly
“Letter from Anthony G. Saville,” African Affairs 45, 179 (April 1946): 98.
“At the moment in the Army the African soldier is being treated with all the care and devotion which he has deserved of us, but if he has doubts about his future after demobilisation, it is only because little has been done to dispel them.”
In a letter written by Anthony G. Saville, Ex-Brigade Major, addressed to the editor of the African Affairs journal written in January of 1946, the behavior of West African troops is addressed. Evidence is provided to dispute the claim made by African Affairs that African soldiers were becoming restless. African troops are described as calm, patient, understanding and faithful despite the extended period of waiting they were subjected to while waiting for ships to bring them back home. In the meantime, African soldiers were being treated well, however the slow demobilization efforts were beginning to cause concern. Many African troops were concerned that when they did eventually return home, they would be returning to an unchanged colonial system. To conclude his letter, Saville offered a warning, for he believed that returning troops would be filled with resentment and that because many soldiers could read, they would become more involved politically.
Why is this primary source important?
This letter is an important primary source because it offers a first-hand account of how West African troops were behaving and what their morale was like during WWII. It offers a picture of how troops were being treated from an Ex-Brigade Major’s standpoint, meaning it can be read with caution for bias. It is an important letter because it makes many allusions to uprisings that African troops have been blamed for, but it tries to undermine the severity of these incidents. An extremely significant piece of information is offered in the last paragraph of this letter, where Saville hints that returning troops have learned to read and will be more politically active.