Thiaroye Massacre Of 1944: 300 African Soldiers Were Betrayed And Murdered By The French Army After Helping The French Army

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The Thiaroye massacre, which in French is Massacre de Thiaroye, was a massacre of French West African troops, by French forces in the morning of 1st December, 1944. West African volunteers and conscripts of the Tirailleurs Sénégalais units of the French army organized rebellions against the poor conditions and standard pay at the Thiaroye camp, on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal, which resulted in the killing of over 300 people which is an unforgettable tragedy.

The Second World War was a global conflict that can never be forgotten. The war was essentially between the Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) on one side and the Allies (Great Britain, France, the United States, Soviet Union and perhaps China) on the other. The conflict started as a result of Germany’s invasion of Poland, but it was also an era of uneasy relationships among Great Powers in Europe.

Tirailleurs Sénégalais units of the French army, 1944

As colonial subjects, the colonial infantries were not awarded the same pensions as their French fellow soldiers during and after the second world war, which was the pensions which were promised to them at the beginning of the war. The pensions for veterans of both french and the colonists were calculated on the basis of living costs in their countries of birth, which meant that those in lower colonies were advantaged than in metropolitan France. These soldiers additionally claimed that they were owed back pay due to an order which was fissured by the Minister of Colonies who authorized benefits for ex-prisoners of war from West Africa, which both fell short of the benefits given to French prisoners of war which wasn’t even implemented. This discrimination led to an organized rebellion which included about 1,300 Senegalese tirailleurs at Camp Thiaroye on 30th November 1944. The tirailleurs involved were actually from Senegal and its neighbouring countries such as Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Benin, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Central African Republic, and Togo. The former prisoners of war had been sent back to West Africa and were placed in a holding camp as they awaited to be discharged. They demonstrated to protest against the failure of the French authorities to pay their salaries and discharge allowances. They immediately grieved with the unfavorable exchange rate applied to the currency which was brought back by the referred soldiers from France. A French general, briefly held by the tirailleurs, promised to change the rate to a par that will be applicable to white veterans too.

Early the following morning the French soldiers guarding the camp opened fire killing between 35 and 70 African soldiers. The massacre was in such a way that 24 of the former prisoners were killed immediately and eleven who were wounded died from their wounds. However, the war veterans claimed over 300 of the black African soldiers were killed while the French only claimed it was 35. The French provisional government of Charles de Gaulle, concerned at the negative impact of the Thiaroye incident on still-serving tirailleurs, acted quickly to make sure the claims for back pay and other monies that were owed were settled.

In March 1945 a military tribunal convicted some of the survivors to 10 years in prison. Five of the prisoners died in detention. As President Vincent Auriol visited Senegal in March 1947, the prisoners were released, but didn’t receive the veteran pensions as promised.

After the war ended, the French argued that the tirailleurs were particularly prone to rebel. The French based this claim on the notion, the German soldiers in an attempt to undermine the loyalty of France’s colonial subjects in Africa, had given the tirailleurs favored treatment as prisoners of war. This evident good treatment of tirailleurs in prisoner of war camps was not, however, based on the fact that they wanted to rebel. They just wanted the veteran promises which were made to them.

To add up, there is no mention of the Thiaroye Massacre in any of France’s history books used by teachers and students in school. Despite the difficulties of the massacre, France still has strong political and military connections with Senegal as of now. A new generation of French leadership wants to confront the past and even planned to build an exhibition about the incident, which would travel to former French colonies in Western Africa in 2013. While the incident is merely mentioned, there is a military cemetery in Senegal that is unkept and receives no visitors. The cemetery holds the unmarked mass graves of the fallen French soldiers. The Senegalese army prevents any film or photography of the cemetery, and many locals consider the cemetery to be haunted due to the fallen French soldiers still awaiting the vengeance of their honor.

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