The fall of France and entry of Italy into World War II made June 1940 a turning point
not only in the Mediterranean but also for West Africa, virtually surrounded as it was
by French colonies. From being allies these became nominally neutral, in practice liable
to be leaned on by Germany to cause disruption in the British colonies, denuded of their
trained troops sent to East Africa. This is the starting point of Professor Lawler's work,
whose central section, derived from declassified records, will fascinate survivors of that
period and for others usefully fill a gap in the history of West Africa. It concentrates on the Gold Coast, especially its frontier with the Ivory Coast whose records the author has
also studied in depth.
Missions sent by various parts of wartime Whitehall, from Free French headquarters
and even the US led to the setting up of cloak and dagger organisations that were only
prevented from causing real trouble by their mutual antipathies and the insistence of the
GOC West Africa that nothing should be done to provoke French West Africa so long as
its neutrality was maintained. Nevertheless plenty of problems were created for already
overstretched Gold Coast officials in frontier districts, especially in Western Ashanti,
recalled for the author by some of those involved.
The rallying of French West Africa to the allied cause in late 1942, following the
allied landings in North Africa, brings the story to an end. Before that the book has also
dealt with less arcane topics such as the role of Takoradi in the reinforcement of the RAF
in the Middle East; the expansion of the Gold Coast Regiment to eight battalions; the
wartime propaganda effort, both internal and external, and the move of an Ivory Coast
chief and his followers into Ashanti. Rarely does the author pass judgement but, where
she does, it is hard to disagree with her.