Leicester postgraduate students bring the story of WW1 African soldiers to light

Two postgraduate students from our University have been heavily involved with a community research and exhibition project that explores the legacy of African soldiers in the First World War.

Entitled ‘Back from the Western Front: African Soldiers of the Great War in Britain’, the project uncovers stories and individual contributions of African soldiers at The Western Front.

Located at Brent Museum and Archives in North-West London, the exhibition uses local and national archives to illustrate the sacrifices and contributions made by soldiers of African origin, as well as the challenges of resettlement for these soldiers returning to Britain in the immediate aftermath of the war from 1918-1919.

Curator and PhD student in the School of History, Politics and International Relations Yewande Okuleye facilitated local volunteers to research, develop content and curate the photographic exhibition. Yewande said: “Working with Heritage Officer Antonia Harland–Lang, I -Yun and Brent Archives volunteers was an absolute pleasure. We were curious, committed, and passionate, which created a great space to discuss ideas, and develop content which reflected our desire to communicate the nuances and personal narratives embedded within this ‘forgotten history’.

“This project provided an opportunity for me to share the historian’s ‘habit of mind’ with the volunteers. It was this historian sensibility which guided the questioning, checking assumptions, evidence gathering, interpretations, and constructing arguments- which culminated in a photo exhibition with narrative vignettes from different parts of Africa. I hope this exhibition will go some way to create a shared sense of global history and that the contributions of Africans are remembered.”

MA student in Museum Studies I-Yun Cheng also took part in the project as part of her placement at the Brent Archives. Her involvement primarily involved working on the Sergeant Major Belo Akure panel. Sergeant Major Belo Akure was a notable Nigerian soldier who served with distinction in the First World War.

I-Yun said: “It was a pleasure to take part in the “Back from the Front” project. As an international student from Taiwan, what I had learned about the history of WW1 before the project was very general. As a result, I was very interested in researching this important historical event from a whole new perspective, and to connect Belo’s personal story. Researching a specific historical figure connected to the local society is a key method of curating a local historical exhibition.

“Working with Yewande and my supervisor Antonia Harland–Lang in the Brent Museum and Archive really inspired me, and gave me so much confidence. I am really pleased that I was able to gain all of this hands-on practical experience from my placement.”