France addresses painful history of African WWI troops

But off the battlefield, thousands more perished in the numbing cold of European winters or from a range of illnesses that their immune systems were unprepared for.

Mor Ndao, a history professor at the University of Cheikh Anta Diop in the Senegalese capital Dakar, said he believes that France has never “recognised sufficiently the role and importance of the tirailleurs”.

“Their treatment has been unequal compared to their French and European brothers in arms,” he said.

What continues to rankle is the issue of military pensions – which were much lower for African fighters and unadjusted for decades – as well as passports which were often promised but rarely delivered.

Yahi from Remembeur thinks that more research in France is needed into the role of colonial troops, and that more should be taught in French schools at a time of rising tensions over race and immigration.

“It’s important for the children and grandchildren of immigrants, but also for French people in general,” she said. “We need to reinvent our national narrative.”

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