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Of Course African Soldiers Got Lower WWII Pay Than European

The latest exemplar of how racist and colonialist we all were back then is that Black African soldiers received less pay than White European ones in the various British armed forces in World War II. Well, yes, this is true and who would expect anything else? Wages in the areas of recruitment were lower thus wages paid to those recruited were.

Something important to understand here. Race itself was not the determinant of pay. A black man who served in a British regiment received exactly the same pay as any other person of the same rank in that same regiment. So did an Indian and any other non-pinkish British type.

Pay, however, did differ across types of unit. So, pay for a regiment or unit which recruited in one of the West African colonies would be different to that paid out to regiments or units recruited from England or even possibly India. This is not a surprise. Pay to people recruited in England is different today to that on offer to those recruited in Luxembourg, the US or India. Why anyone would express surprise at this is unknown.

Except we are getting this surprise:

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] More than half a million black African soldiers who fought in the British army during the second world war were paid up to three times less than their white counterparts, a newly unearthed document has revealed, prompting calls for an investigation and the government to compensate surviving veterans. The document, buried in Britain’s national archives, reveals how the government systematically discriminated against African soldiers, paying white personnel – even those living in African colonies and serving alongside African soldiers in British colonial units – far more than their black counterparts. [/perfectpullquote]

The King’s African Rifles had a different pay scale from the Coldstream Guards. The first recruited from the East African colonies, the second the Home Counties. Wages differed in the two recruitment areas thus wages on offer to those recruited did too.

An example from West Africa:

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]This, and other such contributions, have to be seen in the context of local wages. In Nigeria, it was only two shillings (10p) per day.[/perfectpullquote]

A useful guide to English wages at the time is £200 a year, say 10 to 15 shillings a day of work. So, we expect there to be a pay difference for soldiers or not?

This is before we even get to the evidence that has been uncovered:

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The document was uncovered by the makers of a documentary for Al Jazeera English’s People and Power series. It reveals that Britain paid its soldiers not only according to their rank and length of service but also the colour of their skin.[/perfectpullquote]

No, not really:

This is the war gratuity

That’s not pay. That’s the War Gratuity. Roughly enough, what people got instead of accrued pensions rights.

Look, sure, we can all get het up about colonialism and the racism of the past if we want to. But the idea that people from lower paid countries get lower pay really isn’t all that absurd is it?

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5 years ago

I believe that GIs got paid more than Tommies. Sinful. The question is, what are we going to do about it now, seventy-five years later? For a start we could require all Americans to apply sackcloth and ashes to their persons and send all their money to Britain. Mass suicide should not be ruled out. Furthermore Americans should be barred from having an opinion on anything, ever again, because this proves they are BAD PEOPLE. That should be totally effective at setting the situation to rights.

Rhoda Klapp
Rhoda Klapp
5 years ago

We should of course compensate anybody who appears with appropriate documentation of having personally served unwillingly under those terms.

5 years ago

IIRC the issue was that UK rates of pay would be realtively generous in the local economy (they certainly weren’t by UK standards, but no-one cares about that of course) and therefore rates were set at local levels

The same thing happened with Ghurkas – if they received a full UK service pension they would have been hugely rich by Nepalese standards and would have distorted the local economy

5 years ago

Not quite sure you’ve got it, Tim. I assume a white East African resident would be classed as a European. But “historian discovers that the 1940’s were more racist and sexist than the present” is a weird non-story. Vince Cable is shocked, shocked he tells us. I also enjoy the non-outrage at women getting 2/3 of the pay of the men. The historian clearly needs some swift, stinging re-education.

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