Another Man’s War: The Story of a Burma Boy in Britain’s Forgotten African Army

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Another Man’s War: The Story of a Burma Boy in Britain’s Forgotten African Army

Published:

Fri, 10/04/2015 - 10:32

By:

paul
Journalist and author Barnaby Phillips, right: His book, Another Man’s War: The
Published: 
09 April, 2015
by PETER GRUNER

Pictured above: Journalist and author Barnaby Phillips, right: His book, Another Man’s War: The Story of a Burma Boy in Britain’s Forgotten African Army.

SIXTY-five years after Nigerian Isaac Fadoyebo was shot and seriously injured fighting for Britain in Burma, the Ministry of Defence still couldn’t decide whether to give him a medal.  

Now a new book, Another Man’s War, by TV journalist Barnaby Phillips, finally reveals the “appalling” lack of recognition for soldiers like Isaac from the former British colonies.

He was one of 100,000 Africans who fought with the “forgotten” 14th Army in the jungles in 1942.  

After running away from his village aged 16, Isaac had trained as a medical orderly before being sent into battle against the Japanese, a particularly cruel and formidable foe.

His unit was ambushed and as his comrades were cut down. One bullet struck his right leg, another his side.

Soaked in blood, he lay helpless and in agony surrounded by corpses. A soldier still alive tried to give first aid but was gunned down and Isaac was left for dead by the Japanese.

However, he was eventually found by the Muslim Rohingya people, local rice farmers, who provided food, water and shelter. Isaac spent nine months in hiding before his eventual rescue by Gurkhas. 

He returned to Nigeria a hero, but his account was soon forgotten – until Al Jazeera journalist Barnaby, 46, who lives in Canonbury, came across his story.

Isaac had written about his experiences, calling his story A Stroke of Unbelievable Luck, and it was broadcast by the BBC African Service in 1989.


Pictured above: Isaac Fadoyebo telling his story in 2011; right, during army service. 

Later Barnaby travelled to Nigeria and Burma in search of Isaac and the people who saved his life, during research for his book, which is soon to become a paperback.

Barnaby met Isaac in Lagos in 2011. The old soldier was 85 and died shortly after the interview.

“We sat facing each other on a pair of white, not quite sturdy plastic chairs that are ubiquitous at any social gathering in Nigeria, our knees almost touching,” Barnaby says.

Isaac said he wanted to show Barnaby something he kept in a box under his bed. It was a certificate from 1946, signed by a British officer thanking Isaac for his loyal service with the Royal West African Frontier Force. He produced his Service Record and under “Campaigns fought” a civil servant had written Burma. Under the next column, entitled “Medals”, the same hand had written, “Not yet decided.”

Barnaby writes: “Not yet decided. I read the words and looked at Isaac. Not yet decided? That was six and a half decades ago, since when Isaac had heard nothing more. How long did the British Army need to make up its mind, and how much courage did a man need to show to merit a medal?”

Barnaby describes a long and awkward silence, broken by Isaac, as if he could see the journalist’s embarrass­ment. “Medals? Why would I want medals? These are enough [pointing to documents], they show I was there.”

Barnaby believes that Britain owes a great debt to the citizens from the former Common­wealth who fought in previous wars. “The African men who volun­teered to fight for Britain, and did so in a system that gave them scant reward, are among the least celebrated of all the soldiers of the Second World War,” he says. 

“A West African contingent took part in the Victory Parade through the streets of London in June 1946, but thereafter their contribution quickly faded from memory.”

More than half a century would pass before the British would put up a monument on Constitution Hill, honouring the millions of Indian, Caribbean and African troops who fought in two world wars.

Barnaby is still campaigning to get a posthumous medal for Isaac. “At the very least he deserves a Burma Star,” he says. 

“But in my dealings with the MoD I’ve been told that in historic cases it was not the job of the British to give out medals to overseas personnel; it is the responsib­ility of their own nation.”

• Another Man’s War: The Story of a Burma Boy in Britain’s Forgotten African Army. By Barnaby Phillips. Oneworld £20

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