Race, empire and colonial troops

When the great powers went to war in 1914, they didn’t start a European war, but a world war. At the start of World War One, the whole of Africa, except Ethiopia and Liberia, was under European rule, and Great Britain and France controlled the two largest colonial empires. They would draw on them extensively for both human and material sources. Even by conservative estimates, well over 4 million non-white men were mobilised into the European and American armies during the War, in both combat and non-combat roles. This section gives a small glimpse into their experiences.

Banner for colonial troops article. 4 soldiers feature in a black and white photograph. They are cantering along a road on horses, they are wearing Sudanese style dress and some have rifles on their backs.

Experiences of colonial troops

Article by:
Santanu Das

Dr Santanu Das gives an overview of the numbers and roles of colonial troops in World War One. Where did colonial troops serve and how was 'race' used as a factor in military policy?

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Troops marching through streets.

Race, racism and military strategy

Article by:
Richard Fogarty

Associate Professor Richard Fogarty looks at how World War One was influenced by different races fighting together in a global war.

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Indian sepoy banner

The Indian sepoy in the First World War

Article by:
Santanu Das

Dr Santanu Das reveals the role of the Indian sepoy in World War One and explores the fragments of historical sources that shed light on the experiences of the one million Indians who served.

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Map of East Africa showing Lake Tanganyika

The First World War in East Africa

Article by:
Edward Paice

The First World War was fought out in Africa as well as on the battlefields of Europe. Edward Paice explains how European colonialism during the late 19th and early 20th centuries determined African involvement in the war, and with a focus on the East Africa campaign describes how the fighting affected African populations.

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America in the First World War

Article by:
Jennifer D Keene

Jennifer Keene explores the events that led up to the United States of America joining the First World War and describes the effect that participation in the war had on American social and political life.

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Photograph showing servicemen standing on the deck of a battleship

Fighting for the Empire: Canada’s Great War in photographs

Article by:
Phil Hatfield

Curator Dr Philip Hatfield draws on photographs taken in Canada during World War One, including scenes of enlistment and arms manufacturing, to consider the range of contributions made by Canadian citizens.

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Collage of photographs showing Chinese presence in France during the First World War

China's Great War

Article by:
Xu Guoqi

Professor Xu Guoqi provides an overview of China’s involvement in the First World War, including the role of the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC) on the Western Front and the impact of the peace conference on China’s future.

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A photograph a munitions plant. Shell are lining the aisles, workers can be seen behind them standing at various machines.

Contract workers in World War One

Article by:
Richard Fogarty

Associate Professor Richard Fogarty considers the role of migrating contract workers, especially in France and Great Britain, whose work away from the battlefields helped the war effort.

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Photograph of ward at Brighton Dome Hospital

Wounding in World War One

Article by:
Julie Anderson

World War One created thousands of casualties from physical wounds, illness, and emotional trauma. Dr Julie Anderson reflects on the subsequent impact on the role of doctors and nurses, and the medical treatment, organisation and new technologies that they employed.

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Print showing illustrated figures in the midst of battle. This is shown through smoke, horses fleeing and shrapnel flying from bright explosions.

Combat and the soldier's experience in the First World War

Article by:
Vanda Wilcox

In a war that saw new weaponry technology and great numbers of casualties, Assistant Professor Vanda Wilcox considers the common experiences of soldiers in active combat.

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banner showing men receiving a hair cut and shave whilst sat in a trench. They are surrounded by sand bags.

The daily life of soldiers

Article by:
Paul Cornish

With focus on the routines of work, rest and recreation, Senior Curator Paul Cornish describes the typical daily life experienced by soldiers in World War One.

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Further themes

Origins, outbreak and conclusions

How did World War One begin? Why did it escalate and what was the impact of both war and peace on the countries involved?

The war machine

How were the 65 million men who fought in World War One recruited, armed and organised?

Life as a soldier

What was life like for the millions of professional, conscripted or recruited soldiers?

Race, empire and colonial troops

Over four million non-white men served in World War One. Explore more about their lives and responsibilities.

Civilians

What was life like for civilians, women, children and those displaced by the fighting?

Propaganda

How was propaganda used to inspire patriotism, dehumanise the enemy and change opinions?

Representation and memory

In addition to poetry, what were the other creative responses to the War? How have these affected our memory and understanding?

Wounding and medicine

How were soldiers injured in World War One and how did doctors, nurses and scientists treat them?

Historical debates

How have the views of historians and our understanding of World War One changed over time?