British Empire Article


Courtesy of OSPA


by J. Ralph Best
The Day War Broke Out
Austin Utility Truck, Freetown
My most outstanding memory of events on the day war broke out was hearing the Marseillaise being sung in a British West African colony.

As a member of the Sierra Leone European Reserve of the Royal West African Frontier Force, I had been called up for full time service some ten days before and had taken my platoon into forward positions assisting in erecting a double apron barbed wire fence around the Kissy oil tank installation and setting up look out positions along Lumley Beach in case of sea raids. Incidentally, while adequate arrangements had been made to supply rations to the African troops up forward, the officers mess had not so far been able to extend its services to cover my additional reserves so that my wife - as others - was required to keep me supplied, quite an amicable set up! In true Girl Guide tradition, my wife fashioned a haybox to carry my food in and so ensured its heat on arrival.

The Day War Broke Out
Freetown Law Courts
On the evening of 2 September we had withdrawn to forward reserve and were bivouacked on the covered verandah of the Freetown Law Courts in the centre of the city and it was here the following morning that I heard the fateful announcement over the local radio. Very shortly afterwards there was shouting in the distance - No, it was men singing! And then they came into view; ten employees of C.F.A.O., a French trading firm, marching full abreast with arms locked singing the Marseillaise in very loud tone. Straight up George Street they came, past the Legislative Council Building and, doffing their headgear as they passed the War Memorial, they continued uphill towards Tower Hill without, it seemed, dropping a note. Some little time later they made the return journey, still ten abreast, still singing the Marseillaise in top voice. A most inspiring episode at such a time. They had visited Government House to pay respects by signing the Governor's book.

And the rice pudding? Oh, yes! Some two hours later, after the African troops had been briefed on the news, my wife arrived with my food to be met at the Law Courts entrance by a stony stare and fixed bayonet! The sentry knew exactly "Who went where'', but there was a war on now. However, the African sergeant was able to whisper to my wife that the password for the day (war broke out) was 'Rice Pudding'.

map of British Empire
Map of West Sierra Leone, 1959
Colony Profile
Sierra Leone
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 67 (April 1994)


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