A meeting with the Unknown Soldier: Tanzania Day Service – 24 April

A special service at Westminster Abbey to celebrate Tanzania Day (26 April) was the catalyst for this first encounter with the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or Warrior, although being the body of a soldier from the Western Front, is completely fitting for the African campaigns. We will never know whether the soldier served in Africa, or any other theatre, prior to his demise in Europe.  French West Africans and British citizens of all colours from South, Central and East Africa served in Europe whole many from Europe (Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal amongst others) served both in Africa and Europe.

The Abbey being the church linked with the British Parliament again links with Africa, as although many of Britain’s decisions about Africa and the war were made by the Cabinet meeting at Downing Street, and the various department offices scattered across Whitehall, Lord Curzon ensured a debate or two in the House as little information of what was happening in East Africa was getting through to the British public. Josiah Wedgwood, Member of Parliament, served in East Africa for a short time in 1916.

Another fitting link is Parliament Square where statues of some of those most involved in the British aspect of the campaign are to be found. David Lloyd George who was Chancellor of the Exchequer, Minister of Munitions and then Prime Minister from December 1916 was keen for the war to be extended to East Africa (and even considered offering the territory to America as part of the peace discussions). Winston Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty involved in sanctioning the monitors which were to sink the Konigsberg and was in post when the Lake Tanganyika Expedition was approved. Churchill also offered to lead the forces in East Africa in 1916 but was overlooked in favour of General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien. The latter only got as far as Cape Town before he had to turn back as his ill-health provided the opportunity for General Jan Smuts to be appointed commander in February 1916. A statue of Smuts is to be found on Parliament Square not too far away from that of another South African, Nelson Mandela. Although Mandela was only born in 1918, his being there is another Great War reminder – that of the porters, labourers and Askari who often went unnoticed in the historical accounts but who contributed so much to the successes of all participating countries.

It was therefore fitting that Tanzania had a special service at the Abbey, bringing people from all over the Commonwealth (Empire) and Europe together, linking the past with the present, sacrifice with celebration. It was also fitting that the hymn, Good Christian men rejoice and sing! (Gelobt sei Gott) was written by a German, Melchior Velpius (c1570-1615). And talking of the Commonwealth, it is appropriate too to remember today (25 April) those who were involved in Gallipoli and the Dardanelles campaign as Australia commemorates ANZAC Day.

Happy Birthday Tanzania!

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2 thoughts on “A meeting with the Unknown Soldier: Tanzania Day Service – 24 April

  1. Pingback: A Christmas truce? Not in Africa, 1914 or 2014 | Anne Samson - Historian

  2. Pingback: Remembrance and Commemoration: a never-ending cycle | Anne Samson - Historian

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