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All over France, you can find statues
honouring the sacrifices of French soldiers in World War I.
What's unusual about this statue
is that the soldiers it commemorates are Africans.
Men brought over from the French colonies in North Africa
and West Africa to fight and to die for France,
the nation that had taken over their own countries
by military force in the 19th century.
They were part of what was called La Force Noire,
the black army, and their story
is one of the least known in the whole of the First World War.
Amadou Sar was one of over 120,000 West Africans
recruited by France during the war.
One of the country's great enthusiasts for African recruitment
was General Charles Mangin.
In 1910, Charles Mangin published this book, La Force Noire,
the black army.
It's basically a manifesto calling for the mass recruitment
of Africans into the French Army.
Mangin didn't just believe that France's African colonies
offered a vast source of fighting men.
He believed Africans had primitive natures
and under-developed nervous systems.
He thought they didn't feel pain as intensely as white Europeans
and so would make excellent soldiers.
He also believed that some African tribes
were naturally more aggressive than others.
This is a photograph of Amadou Sar
and one of the reasons that he in particular is here
on the Western front is because his people,
the Wolof tribe of West Africa,
were one of those peoples that French colonial theorists
had decided were a naturally warrior type people, la race guerriere.
Troops who should lead an assault and that was their great skill,
that is how they should be used. Of course, what that means
is that Wolofs were about three times more likely
to die in combat than white soldiers fighting in the same campaigns.
This mosque, here in the south of France,
commemorates the West Africans who fought and died for France.
But not all of the men who found themselves fighting
for France had much choice in the matter.
Recruitment in West Africa was outsourced to agents,
to intermediaries, to men who worked to a quota system
and were paid by results. What this meant in practice
was that men were forced, coerced into the French Army,
were, in effect, slaves.
Now, to me, it's really difficult to think of a more bitter,
more uncomfortable irony than that,
that men were taken from their homes, bound in chains
and sent to Europe to fight for liberty and civilisation.
The monument of Le Constellation de la Douleur,
the Constellation of Suffering, was constructed in memory
of the West African riflemen, known as Tirailleurs Senegalais,
who experienced catastrophic losses
fighting for this ridge at the height of the war.
In April 1917, 20 battalions of Tirailleurs Senegalais were
assembled here, 15,000 men on the battlefield of Chemin des Dames on the Western Front.
They were deployed as shock troops
in full accordance with the theories of General Mangin.
This is where the idea that some Africans were natural warriors,
naturally suited to the attack, reached its conclusion,
with African soldiers being used as cannon fodder.
But there was still another 18 months of hard fighting left
until the war was finally over. Did Amadou make it?
I'd like to think so.
But because of who he was and where he came from,
because of his tribe and his race, the odds were stacked against him.
The new weapons and tactics of the First World War
created an industrialised killing machine.
And it sucked in men from around the globe.
The world had never seen such a diverse population
in such a concentrated area.
And the small Belgian community of Dikkebus
was right at the heart of this extraordinary global phenomenon.
Just a few miles away from the town of Dikkebus
lay the Western Front, and almost overnight, this town was transformed
from a provincial backwater to being one of the most diverse
and multicultural places on the planet.
Men from all over the earth came here to fight and to labour,
and watching over the whole thing was the young parish priest
of this church, Father Achiel Van Walleghem,
and he kept a remarkable diary of the war years.
Historian and curator Dominiek Dendooven
has studied Father Van Walleghem's impressions of those strange times.
What you seem to get from him
is a view of the First World war from behind net curtains.
We actually have through him first-hand accounts,
but first-hand accounts not from one of the parties involved
but from a bystander, which is very nice because that's information,
that first of all you would never think about,
and secondly you would never, ever encounter in official reports.
We've got the entry for the 6th June, a Sunday.
"Several Indian troops have arrived in the parish,
"black of skin, dressed as English soldiers,
"with the exception of the hat,
"which is draped artfully in a towel."
So that's a turban.
"They speak English and some a bit of French.
"In general, they are very friendly and polite.
"Though their curiosity has the upper hand
"and they especially like to see through the windows of our houses.
"They bake a kind of pancake
"and they eat a kind of seed, which has a very strong taste."
So this is going to be chapatis?
Yeah, they're eating chapatis.
And flavoured with a very strong tasting spice.
Yeah, yeah, he says they are eating a kind of seed which is very strong
so he must have tasted it,
because otherwise he wouldn't have known that it has a strong taste.
So he's one of the first people in rural Belgium to try Indian food.
That's very much so, because local people normally tend
to be chauvinistic regarding food,
but he is definitely someone who is open to taste other things.
Father Walleghem made careful observations of all
the different nationalities who passed through his parish.
But one group in particular caught his attention.
They'd travelled from the other side of the world
to play their part in the war.
"In the area now, many Chinese have arrived and they are employed
"by the English, the British Army to work.
"So it happens that I pass them shortly before noon
"and constantly they were saying, 'Watch! Watch!'
"because they wanted to know how late it was.
"And I believe they were getting hungry because when I showed them
"it was only five minutes to 12, they were nodding contently."
Because they know they are going to get their dinner.
And he writes, indeed, he writes,
"It was nearly time to fill their bellies with their beloved rice."
Their beloved rice.
Their beloved rice.
More than 50 different nationalities
ended up living and working together in this small pocket of Europe.
When you look at that world behind the lines,
it looks more like Europe of the 21st century -
diverse, multicultural, multi-faith -
than the Europe of 1914-18.
Yeah, and that makes it very interesting for us historians,
because it points out the relevance that history can have
for today's societies.
Which means if you study how these groups
got along during the First World War, it's kind of a mirror
to the problems we face today in our multicultural society.
In April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany.
By the end of the year, tens of thousands of fresh troops
were arriving in France to reinforce the weary Allied ranks.
This is the grave of Freddie Stowers,
an American corporal who was killed in action
in September 1918, taking part in the Meuse-Argonne offensive,
one of the key turning points in the whole of the First World War.
What's different about Corporal Stowers from most of the men
buried in this American cemetery
was that he fought his war in a French helmet.
He carried a French rifle, he took orders from officers who were French,
and the reason for that - Freddie Stowers was an African-American.
The commander of the American Expeditionary Force,
General John Pershing, had refused to lead black soldiers into battle.
Most of the third of a million African-Americans
drafted into the US Army
had been sent to work behind the lines
in segregated labour battalions.
There were a handful of black combat units,
and General Pershing's refusal to lead them
turned them into an orphaned army.
The French called them les enfants perdus - the lost children.
First, the British were asked to train them
in the art of trench warfare, but they said no.
But the French Army welcomed them into their ranks,
ranks that after all were full already of black soldiers from the French empire.
Many of the black American soldiers who came to France
in the First World War were from the American South.
And what they encountered here was a society
that had its own prejudices, but that was radically more tolerant
and integrated than America.
In 1914, 54 black men had been lynched in the States,
and in the south, black people lived under a set of racial laws
that were really not that dissimilar from the laws
of apartheid era south Africa.
What astonished the black troops when they got here
was the simple things. That they could go out to the cafes,
that they could travel in the same railway carriages as whites.
That they could talk to white women on the street,
and that's something that could get you killed in the American South.
One soldier wrote home to his mother saying the only time
he was ever reminded in France that he was black,
was when he looked at his own face in the mirror.
Something of a love affair developed between France and black America.
The African-American troops were seen as sophisticated,
urbane and as irresistible as their new style of music.
Behind the lines parties sowed the seeds
for the post-war passion in France for ragtime and jazz.
The American military viewed this love affair
with mounting horror.
French acceptance of black Americans as equals
threatened to undermine the foundations of segregated America.
The music had to stop.
This is a copy of The Crisis, which was the magazine
of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People,
but on page 16, there is a section called documents of the war,
and the most important document
is this one. "Secret information concerning black American troops."
This was written by the French Military Mission
on the orders of the Americans,
and what this is is a list of instructions,
of demands placed on the French by the Americans
on how they were expected to treat black American soldiers.
It begins, "Although a citizen of the United States,
"the black man is regarded by white Americans as an inferior being.
"We must prevent," it says, "the rise of any pronounced degree
"of intimacy between French officers and black officers.
"We must not eat with them, must not shake hands,
"or seek to meet or talk with them
"outside of the requirements of military service.
"We must not commend too highly the black American troops
"particularly in the presence of white Americans.
"We must make the point of keeping the native population,"
they mean the white French population,
"from spoiling the negroes. White Americans become greatly incensed
"by any expression of intimacy between white women and black men."
But French officers had more pressing concerns,
and the so-called French directive was suppressed.
In September 1918, Freddie Stowers and his regiment were involved in
what became known as the Hundred Days Offensive,
the final bloody push to drive the Germans out of France.
Early on the morning of the 26th September,
Corporal Stowers and his men received orders
to capture a heavily defended hill.
When the German troops appeared to surrender,
Stowers led his men forward but it was a trap.
The machine guns opened up and he was hit twice.
But somehow, he managed to lead his men and take the German positions.
He died on the battlefield,
an American soldier in a French helmet.
Stowers was recommended for the highest US military accolade
- the Medal of Honor.
But it would be more than 70 years
before the recommendation was processed.
His sisters finally received the medal on his behalf in 1991.
Above the blood and the mud of the Western Front,
the First World War saw the debut of a new form of warfare.
The Royal Flying Corps - which became the Royal Air Force in 1918 -
played an increasingly critical role in the fighting.
And a new type of hero was born - the air ace.
In the summer of 1918,
a RAF pilot flying one of these, an SE5a fighter,
shot down ten enemy aircraft in the space of just 13 days.
Now, that's a kill rate that compares with that
of any of the great fighter aces of the First World War.
But this pilot wasn't British or French or German,
he was a 19-year-old Indian called Indra Lal Roy.
Indra Lal Roy was born in Calcutta in 1898 into an upper class family.
He moved to London as a boy where he excelled at St Paul's school.
Oxford and a career in the Indian civil service beckoned.
But Indra had other plans.
He dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot
in the fledgling Royal Flying Corps.
But joining up would not be as simple as Indra hoped
as Peter Levitt from the Royal Air Force Museum explains.
The problem was if anybody was Asian or Black
and interested in joining the flying services before the First World War,
there was a strong colour bar.
They did not encourage people to join.
There was also a very strict rule against anybody who was
not of pure European stock becoming an officer,
which meant no matter who the Indian was,
or the African or the Caribbean,
he simply could not be a British officer.
And this was a military regulation.
It was enshrined in military and naval law.
But in times of war, the rules change.
The casualty rates of the Royal Flying Corps in 1915 and 1916
mean there is great demand for more planes like this
but there's also a shortage of officers.
This is a very critical and fluid moment.
This is exactly right.
The casualties in the air are as nothing compared to those
on the ground but they are very, very severe.
Critically short of men, the Royal Flying Corps was prepared to relax
its strict racial policy.
If there had been no war,
Indra Lal Roy would not have been an officer in the Royal Flying Corps,
we can say that with certainty.
If he hadn't been a public school boy,
he wouldn't have been an officer in the Royal Flying Corps.
On this occasion,
it seemed that class was more important to the British than race.
But Lal Roy still needed to prove that he had what it took
to join the exclusive club of fighter pilots.
Once he had his commission in July 1917,
he was assessed by the Royal Flying Corps
and he was sent for training. His hand-eye coordination was good,
he was a good sportsman, he knew how to fly an aircraft.
He was assessed as good enough to be a scout or fighter pilot.
They are the elite,
they can handle their aircraft
and they are also deemed to have the emotional strength,
perhaps the ruthlessness, to kill other men.
In June 1918,
Flight Lieutenant Lal Roy was posted to the front line in France.
He and his SE5a were thrown into the frantic fight
to drive back the massive German offensive.
So by his skill, he put himself very quickly from being a trainee pilot
to being in the absolute forefront of one of the most
dangerous jobs in the most dangerous moments in the First World War.
Absolutely right, and in a sustained period, only 13 days,
between the 6th of July 1918 and the 19th July 1918,
he shoots down ten German aircraft.
He only flew for 170 hours and 15 minutes to do that,
that's quite exceptional.
And his rate of scoring was such that had he survived,
then he would be up there with the greats.
So what happened to him?
Only three days after his last victory,
he took off at 8 o'clock in the morning on the 22nd July 1918.
He took off with three other officers,
a fight broke out at 16,000ft with Fokker DVIIs,
two of those German aircraft were shot down
and an SE5a was seen to fall in flames.
He didn't return.
19-year-old Indra Lal Roy was buried by the Germans
with full military honours
in the cemetery of the French village of Estevelles.
After the war, his mother went to France and it was suggested
that he be buried elsewhere but she wouldn't have it.
This is where, she said,
he had fallen in a cause that he believed in.
Indra Lal Roy was posthumously awarded
the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Indra Lal Roy's short life reminds us
that this thing we call the First World War
is really the story of millions of individual experiences,
each one of them different.
Here was a young man who went looking for the war,
who fought it on his own terms, who emulated his heroes,
who broke through the colour bar
and who became one of the most deadly air aces
on the Western Front.
And he did this at s time when it was widely believed
that Indians weren't capable of even running their own country.
"Dear Mrs Roy, I am writing just a short note to try to explain just
"the sort of real hero your son was.
"I was in the same squadron and I had the great pleasure and honour
"to be your son's friend and admirer for the short time I knew him.
"He was just wonderful.
"He wasn't a fierce fighter by any means,
"he simply fought with amazing courage
"and half his thoughts were with the enemy pilot I am sure.
"He stands alone for pureness, nobleness, courage
"and most of all modesty."
World War I drew men from all over the globe to the Western Front.
But one of the most telling meetings between different races and cultures
came not in the trenches
but in the South of France far from the bullets and the artillery.
Frejus with its warm climate
was one of those places where black soldiers,
Africans recruited in the French colonies of West Africa,
were sent to rest and recuperate during the winter.
The French Army was convinced that Africans simply couldn't survive
the cold winters of Northern France.
Frejus was also home to a young French artist who met the Africans,
who got to know some of these men who had come from so far away
to try and save France.
Her name was Lucie Cousturier.
Lucie Cousturier was a Paris-based painter
who had moved to Frejus to escape the war.
She found a town going through a period of remarkable change.
Historian Alison Fell explains.
Frejus was a very small town in the First World War,
about 8,000 people and there's about 40,000 French-African soldiers
who spent the winters here.
And so this small town on the Cote d'Azur
suddenly has an army camp four, five times the size of it
with men from Africa.
Absolutely, it must have been absolutely transformed
and the vast majority of the population
would never have seen a black man before.
The population of Frejus reflected the prejudices of the time.
So, Alison, what stereotypes about Africans and African soldiers
were common at the time in France?
Before the First World War, the common stereotypes were of savage,
cannibalistic, highly sexed, certainly for African men.
And there was a lot of nervousness about the presence
of black African troops on French soil in the First World War.
The West African soldiers were known as the Tirailleurs Senegalais.
And the French authorities set out to reassure their citizens
that they had nothing to fear from them.
They presented them as loyal, simple children.
One of the main ways that they propagated this image
was through an advert for a drink called Banania.
There's a very famous advertisement with a grinning Tirailleur
and the slogan is "Y'a bon."
Which was the slogan that was most associated with
the Tirailleurs Senegalais.
And that's part of the language, the simple version of pidgin French
that the Tirailleurs were taught by the French army?
Absolutely, they were taught a form of pidgin French
so "Y'a bon" in standard French would be "C'est bon" so, "It's good."
-So, it's like baby talk.
-It's like baby talk. Absolutely,
and they were taught a very, very limited set of set phrases.
So it also really limited their ability to express themselves
beyond the most basic daily needs.
When the black soldiers came to Lucie Cousturier's house
looking for odd jobs and scrounging for cigarettes,
she struck up what, for the times,
was an unlikely friendship with them.
They asked her perhaps for a glass of water or something like that
and she invited them in and gradually she realised
that all they could speak was a kind of military jargon
which had been imposed on them
for reasons of understanding military orders.
The military were producing people who could not communicate
with the people for whom they were fighting.
She taught them French, she taught them writing and reading,
and it was through her work with them in a way that some of these
stereotypes then were unmasked as the racist assumptions they were.
"If I had been swayed by the opinion commonly held
"that the intelligence of negroes develops only until the age of 13
"and decreases after that,
"I would never have set out to teach a 28-year-old to read and write
"and one who had practised for seven years
"the muddled jargon of the Tirailleurs."
She really befriended them
and found that underneath the different colour of skin,
underneath the ignorance of the French language,
they were human beings, they had the same feelings,
they had the same family attachments.
They had the same total bewilderment
at being in a totally alien environment.
She's an extraordinary woman. Really quite extraordinary for her period.
When we think of the First World War,
we tend to picture white men in the trenches.
But more than four million black, Asian and North African men
also fought in the conflict.
Many of these men were unable to write
so if we want to unlock some of their experiences of the war,
we need look to look beyond the written word.
I've come to this building in Berlin,
to a place that used to be called the museum of voices.
What's inside here are hundreds of recordings
of the voices of men who fought in the First World War.
They came not just from Europe, but from right across the world
and one of them was a young Indian soldier called Mall Singh.
Here, in these meticulously ordered cabinets,
are hundreds of ghosts from the war.
A voice from another world.
-You can hear when he makes mistakes, you can hear his stumbles.
The haunting voice belongs to a 24-year-old Indian soldier
from the Punjab called Mall Singh. He's telling his own story.
He was part of the India Corps that arrived in France in 1914
to fight for the British...
..and he'd been taken prisoner by the Germans.
At 4pm on 11th December 1916,
Mall Singh was put in front of a horn microphone
and told to recite his poem.
The recording brings to life the story of a man transported
across continents and oceans to fight in someone else's war.
The German scientists who made it had no interest in any of that.
They just wanted a sample of Punjabi dialect
to further their research into different racial types.
But it's only thanks to their obsession
that a century later we have a sound archive filled
with the voices of Mall Singh and hundreds of other colonial soldiers,
offering a rare glimpse into their experience of the war.
Most of these colonial soldiers were non-literate or semi-literate
and they have not left us the super-abundance of diaries or poems
or letters that form the cornerstone
of European memory of the First World War.
So it's necessarily a history of fragments,
it's a history of fugitive moments
that has to be very carefully recovered, analysed
and put pressure on, and because there are so few,
they are all the more precious.
In late summer 1914, the empires of Europe went to war.
Within weeks, thousands of soldiers from British India
started arriving here in Marseille, in southern France.
The Indian Army was made up of men from all over India
and was led by white British officers.
Established to guard the British Raj,
the India Corps, still in their tropical uniforms,
were ill-equipped to fight a war in Northern Europe.
But as the German armies marched across the continent,
the British needed every soldier they could get their hands on.
The Indians' first stop was Marseille's racecourse
just outside the city.
Among the thousands of soldiers who were camped out here
on the racecourse at Marseilles
was a young Sikh soldier called Manta Singh.
This was the first place that he and the other Indian troops
had a chance to get used to their new surroundings,
to try to make sense of this strange world
into which they had been thrown by the British Empire.
They had a lot to get used to, including learning how to operate
the new rifle they had been given
with which they were going off to fight a war
thousands of miles away from home.
We are usually used to thinking of it as a military clash of empires,
but what happens when the different empires go to war?
Of course, they fight and people get killed,
but that also means that hundreds of thousands of people
are travelling all across the globe in different directions.
They're meeting, interacting, forming bridges,
at the same time splintering apart.
Often it's such moments,
such granular moments, that give us insights into the global war.
By the end of October, Manta Singh and the rest of the India Corps
had been rushed to Northern France in a frantic attempt
to halt the German advance.
The Indian troops now made up a third of the British Army.
Manta Singh was thrown into battle near the French village
of Neuve Chapelle and ordered to hold the line at all costs.
One of the white officers fighting alongside Manta Singh
was Captain George Henderson, an old India hand.
The two men had become firm friends.
There was fighting going on in the region north of Neuve Chapelle.
Captain Henderson went out on patrol.
Part of the patrol was going off-course.
He signalled to that patrol to come back.
They didn't hear him.
He went after that patrol
and was shot through both thighs and seriously wounded.
Manta Singh saw the incident and rescued his friend,
the story goes, with a wheelbarrow and took him to safety.
As his friend recovered in hospital,
Manta Singh returned to the front line
where a new, terrible form of combat had developed...
The India Corps were among the first to experience the mud and misery
of the trenches - a world ruled by machine guns, high explosives
and poison gas.
"This is not war," one of them wrote.
"This is the end of the world."
In March 1915,
the British launched their first major offensive of the war.
The India Corps were in the thick of it,
making up almost half the attacking force.
Among them was Manta Singh.
The British advance faltered and then collapsed.
More than 4,000 Indian soldiers were killed or wounded
in three days of fighting.
Manta Singh himself was shot through the thigh.
We don't know precisely the circumstances,
but we do know it was a very, very serious injury indeed.
Probably more so than his friend Captain Henderson,
who unfortunately was shot through both thighs.
Manta Singh was brought back to England.
The injury was sufficiently serious that they had to amputate his leg
and unfortunately gangrene set in
and a few days later, Manta Singh died.
Manta Singh's body was taken here to the South Downs
and cremated in accordance with his religious beliefs.
The Chattri Monument marks the spot
where more than 50 other Indian soldiers were cremated
before their ashes were scattered on the English Channel.
On hearing of the death of his friend,
Captain Henderson made sure that Manta Singh's son
was cared for and supported.
Remarkably, their sons also served together during the Second World War
and 100 years after Manta Singh saved Captain Henderson's life,
their grandsons carry on this family friendship
forged in World War I.
The millions of people drawn into World War I
are often seen as passive victims caught up in global events.
But some stories remind us
that the men who fought in the conflict often had their own agenda
and were determined to take control of their own fate.
In March 1915, the British were preparing
for their first major offensive on the Western Front,
here near the village of Neuve Chapelle in France.
Half the attacking soldiers were to be Indians,
but one of those soldiers, Jemadar Mir Mast, an officer,
had plans of his own.
He was about to begin an epic journey that would take him
all the way home to India,
but it began with a night-time journey across no-man's-land
in which Mir Mast took 20 of his comrades
over to the German lines and deserted to the enemy.
Mir Mast was a Muslim from a small mountain village
on the border of Afghanistan and India.
He was a jemadar, a platoon commander,
in the 58th Vaughan's Rifles,
part of the India Corp who had been sent to France
at the start of the war.
By the spring of 1915,
Mir Mast had already endured a bitter winter in the trenches.
He'd seen fierce fighting and had been awarded
the Indian Distinguished Service Medal
for "gallantry and devotion to duty".
What I've got here arranged in front of me is the paper trail,
the documents left behind by Mir Mast in archives in London
and Delhi and Berlin.
In the London Gazette is the formal announcement of Mir Mast's
Indian Distinguished Service Medal.
But by the time his award was announced,
this "gallant officer" was already being debriefed by German officials.
These are the notes from the interrogation of Mir Mast
by a German official on 7th March 1915 in Lille in France,
just a few days after he'd defected and brought other soldiers with him
over to the German lines at Neuve Chapelle.
The most important page is this one -
this is a map of the Khyber Pass, perhaps drawn by Mir Mast himself.
It certainly comes out of his interrogation
and it lists the numbers and the locations,
the dispositions of the British and Indian troops on the Khyber Pass,
the critical route between Afghanistan and British India.
So, clearly, having deserted to the Germans,
Mir Mast was determined to prove to them just how useful he could be.
Mir Mast's next stop was a prisoner of war camp
for colonial soldiers outside Berlin.
There the Germans were on the lookout for volunteers
for one of the most audacious and dangerous missions
of the whole war -
an expedition to Kabul to persuade the Emir of Afghanistan
to switch sides and join a "holy war" against British India.
The mission was made up of diplomats from Germany
and her new ally, Turkey, Indian nationalists and the volunteers
from the prisoner of war camp whose local knowledge would be invaluable.
They would set off from Istanbul,
heading first towards Baghdad.
From there, they'd cross the salt deserts and mountains of Persia
before dropping down onto the dusty plains of Afghanistan
and their final destination,
The most intriguing piece of evidence in this whole story
is this photograph. We know that it was taken by the Germans
and it shows six Indian soldiers
along with four Indian names, one of which was Mir Mast.
He's the guy on the far left,
a guy who has set himself slightly away from the others,
but it's his face - this guy has the face of a man
who's lived the life of Mir Mast, who's lived between empires,
who has lived a life of intrigue. It's the face of a born survivor.
The mission set off in May 1915.
Dodging Russian and British patrols, running short of water
and supplies, more than half of the expedition was lost to
exhaustion, disease and defection.
But a core group did reach Kabul.
They were eventually granted official audiences with the Emir.
He weighed up his options,
calculating which imperial power was likely to come out on top.
But the British were past masters of the dark arts
of diplomacy in this part of the world,
and they were able to undermine all the expedition's talk of holy war.
In the end, the Emir decided to stick with the British -
and the German schemes unravelled in the cold Afghan winter.
Mir Mast found himself on a global battlefield,
fighting first for the British and then for German ambitions.
But he fought the war on his own terms - and it looks like he won.
This document is the final piece in the jigsaw in the remarkable
life of Mir Mast.
This is a secret British report into the nominal role of
Indian prisoners of war suspected of having deserted to the enemy.
It's from October 1918, near the end of the war.
As well as giving the regiments and the names
of these soldiers, this document critically also gives us the latest
information that the British have received on what happened to them.
And for Mir Mast and two of his colleagues, what it says is
these three accompanied the Turco-German mission to Afghanistan
and are reported to have returned to their homes in June 1915.
So there you have it -
evidence that the British at least are convinced that
Mir Mast made it all the way from the Western Front back to his home.
A few miles outside the village of Noyelles-sur-Mer,
not far from the French coast, is a well-tended World War I cemetery.
What's surprising is that the men buried here were Chinese civilians.
One of them was Doh Jing Shan,
or as he was known to the British - 105669.
He's buried alongside more than 800 of his fellow countrymen.
So what are they doing here
in a military graveyard in northern France?
Well, their story, the story of the
Chinese Labour Corps is one of the most forgotten
in all of the First World War, but it was their muscle and
their ingenuity that kept the wheels of industrial warfare turning.
As the war went on, the armies on the Western Front developed
a more and more sophisticated killing machine,
capable of industrial-scale slaughter.
All it needed was an infinite number of men to feed it.
In October 1916, the British started recruiting Chinese labourers in
their thousands to replace the men killed in two years of slaughter.
Initially, the men from China were given the most menial of tasks -
digging trenches, lugging ammo and burying bodies.
But as the fighting intensified,
many found themselves propelled into roles as skilled mechanics
on a new military technology making its debut in the war.
This is "Deborah", a British D51 tank.
In the winter of 1917, she was one of more than 300 of these strange
new beasts that lumbered towards the German lines.
Deborah was dug up and recovered 80 years later by her
present owner, Philippe Gorczynski.
For him, the story of the tank
and the story of the Chinese Labour Corps are inseparable.
So in the First World War,
this is the most hi tech weapon on the battlefield.
Yes. It was like Formula One.
It was a new design, modern equipment with an engine,
it was the new technology of the beginning of the century.
The tanks were submitted to very hard conditions of driving,
but also of fighting, so when the tank went into the action,
you have to imagine that those inside
asked the maximum of their engine, of their tank.
So as soon as the action was finished,
the tank has to be completely repaired,
re-put into fighting condition.
So for most of its time, a tank wasn't in the hands of soldiers
and tank crews, it was with engineers
behind the line being repaired and rebuilt.
Yes, because I think that every tank went into the Chinese hands.
In fact, they were crucial in the involvement of the tank
into the First World War.
This was hard work and it was dangerous work,
but it was also skilled mechanical work.
Yes, because it need very careful attention just for the engine,
just for the gearbox of the tanks,
just for all this kind of adjustments.
It needed people who are very careful and very meticulous.
And that was also surprising - they have to work on both sides,
very heavy and difficult task and also very meticulous work.
They have to work a seven-day week and sometimes more than ten hours,
and many of them suffered from wounds and some were killed.
So it was really hard treatment, always in the middle of the mud,
always in the middle of the grease - it was also a kind of hell.
The story of the Chinese Labour Corps did not end with
the end of the war.
Many, like labourer Doh Jing Shan, stayed on to clear up the mess.
They filled in trenches, recovered bodies, dug cemeteries
and carved headstones.
Doh Jing Shan's grave records his death on the 27th of April 1919,
more than five months after the shooting stopped.
He was probably a victim of the Spanish flu epidemic
that raged after the war.
There is, I think, something specially tragic about this place,
a Chinese cemetery in the middle of a French farm.
Most of these men were themselves just farmers, from tiny villages.
All they wanted to do was to earn some money,
and see a little bit of the world.
It was their blood, sweat and tears which fed the machine of war.
But all of that, everything they had done,
everything they had been through, quickly slipped from memory.
Of all the many peoples who came to the Western Front
in the First World War, the Chinese labourers are probably the most
forgotten of the forgotten.
We think that we know the First World War -
the trenches, the barbed wire, the shell holes, the machine guns,
the gas, the high explosives, the mud
and the blood of the Western Front.
GUNFIRE AND EXPLOSIONS
But the first shot fired by a soldier in the British Army
was fired here in Africa, by an African,
just three days after war was declared.
That soldier's name was Alhaji Grunshi.
He'd been born in the British colony of the Gold Coast,
modern-day Ghana, and in 1914 he was
in the British West African Frontier Force.
In 1914, they were attacking the Germans in their colony of Togoland.
Now, from the moment that Grunshi fired that first shot,
the Great War became the World's War.
More than four million non-white people
from the various colonial empires
fought in the First World War,
yet the colour of First World War memory still remains largely white.
It was an extraordinarily diverse war, because
we have one and a half million Indians, two million Africans,
400,000 African Americans,
100,000 Chinese labourers,
and yet more seems to have been written on the four British
First World War poets than this four million people taken together.
When the colonies of Germany, Britain and Belgium
went to war in German East Africa, present-day Tanzania,
millions of Africans paid the price...
..as soldiers drawn into an imperial fight...
..and as civilians caught in its terrible wake.
Unlike in Europe, the war here
wasn't restricted to a narrow killing zone...
..it roamed over vast areas.
Millions of men were press ganged as porters by both sides
to carry equipment, food and ammunition.
They were overworked and underfed and about 20% of them died.
Now that's a casualty rate that compares to
anything on the Western Front.
One British official had no doubt that their treatment would
have been considered a scandal, had they not been merely Africans.
"After all," he said "Who cares about native carriers?"
With broken supply chains, the armies descended on villages
like plagues of locusts,
plundering corn, cattle and supplies.
Up to a third of a million African civilians are believed to have
perished in the famines that followed.
A war that began as a war between Europeans thousands of miles away,
pulled in Africans from all over the continent to
fight against other Africans.
One of those men was Alhaji Grunshi.
Against all the odds, the veteran of four years of conflict
survived the war.
But a history was constructed which
quietly eclipsed his and the millions of other
colonial soldiers' contributions,
and left a collective memory
of a war fought in Europe between white men.
It's a very exciting history,
but it's also a difficult one, it's a painful one -
it's a history of discrimination.
But only when we walk through these difficulties
can we understand the fullness of the imperial character of the war.
One way to understand the truly global nature of the war
is to travel to a place in present-day Zambia,
deep in the bush, near the Chambeshi River.
It was here, in the middle of Africa,
that three days after the last shot was fired in Europe
that African soldiers put down their weapons...
..and the World's War ended.