Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I Had No Idea

Musikmeister Gustav Sabac el Cher in 1908
Grenadier-Regiment Kronprinz (1.Ostpreußisches) Nr.1

While searching for paintings and photographs of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, I came across that photo above. At first glance I noticed nothing out of the ordinary. Standard German musician's uniform (those things on the shoulders are called "swallows nests"), standard German style mustache for turn of the century Imperial Germany, standard pickelhaube (the spiked helmet), standard...

Wait a minute.

I had to chase the photo down, the soldier in the photo is indeed out of the ordinary. Because he is black, not white. Which is pretty non-standard for Germany back in the day. This website has a number of cool photos of black Germans. Unexpected by me to say the least.

Now I am very familiar with blacks who served in the French Army during World War I. France had a large colonial empire in Africa and in Asia. Many soldiers and laborers were brought to France to fight and to work.

Senegalese Tirailleurs serving side by side with French troops, 1914
There were black soldiers in the British Army as well, though like the German they were few in number.

Lieutenant Walter Tull
The Footballers Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment
Killed in Action, 1918

During the First World War, Tull served in the Footballers' Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, and fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on 30 May 1917. Tull fought in Italy in 1917–18, and was mentioned in dispatches for "gallantry and coolness" while leading his company of 26 men on a raiding party into enemy territory. Tull was the first black army officer to lead troops. He returned to France in 1918, and was killed in action on 25 March during the Spring Offensive; his body was never recovered. (Source)
This website details the Asian and black soldiers contributions during WWI.

If you have Netflix, check out the BBC mini-series, The World's War: Forgotten Soldiers of Empire, which tells the tale of the Africans, Asians, and Indians who fought, suffered, and died in the horror of the trenches.

When WWI is mentioned, most of us picture white faces in all the scenes of the war and the home front. The stories I grew up with, the movies I watched, always showed white soldiers. As if the rest of the human race had nothing to do with the war at all.

But after all, it was a world war. In case you haven't noticed, the skins of our brothers and sisters around the world are of many shades.

We all bleed red.


  1. Replies
    1. African bandsmen were highly prized in Napoleon's time as well.

  2. database has more. Not specific, but searchable. Haven't been there since they remodeled, but an interesting place.

    1. I didn't even know it existed! (The site or the actual museum.)

      You just made my day James!

  3. Thanks for the post. You always have great stuff.

    Paul L. Quandt

  4. Don't forget to look up the German campaigns in East Africa.

    1. General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, the Lion of Africa, and his troops?

      Very familiar with his exploits, but an excellent point XBradTC.


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