This photograph comes from an album put together by Major General Charles Howard Foulkes, a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers who served with the West India Regiment in Sierra Leone during the Hut Tax War (1897–99). The photo is part of a larger personal album that Foulkes created during his service in Africa and the Caribbean. This photograph demonstrates the sort of tactics that were used by the British in ‘small’ colonial wars in West Africa.

The building in the photograph has been destroyed by heavy artillery; the village was one of nearly 200 that were destroyed during this particular colonial war. An officer of the West India Regiment involved in the Hut Tax War stated that ‘the whole of this country has risen, and I see no other way of punishing the offenders than by destroying their towns, though it must seem hard on the women and children’. This opinion was common amongst the military at the time, and these tactics were encouraged in books that were read by military officers. Colonel C E Calwell’s Small Wars, recommended to officers almost as a manual for conducting small campaigns in the colonies, instructed that when ‘quelling an insurrection’ the object of any campaign should not just be to demonstrate military superiority but also to punish those who had taken up arms by destroying their villages and property.