Emmanuel Cole

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Emmanuel Cole (1908–1972) was a Sierra Leonean soldier who demanded fair treatment and reasonable pay from the British colonial power. Emmanuel Cole's efforts forced the British to provide improved conditions of service to Sierra Leonean soldiers of the Royal West African Frontier Force and for other RWAFF soldiers throughout British West Africa.

Early life[edit]

Emmanuel Cole was born in 1908 in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone to poor Creole parents. After he graduated from secondary school in 1926, he immediately joint the Royal West African Frontier Force at the age of eighteen. He was attached to the Royal Artillery at the heavy battery in Murray Town Barracks in Freetown.

Protest[edit]

In January, 1939, Cole convinced a group of his fellow Sierra Leonean soldiers to join him in sending a letter of protest to their British commanding officer, complaining that their pay was not enough to meet expenses. Cole and his fellow soldiers also demanded to be treated in the same way as British soldiers of the same rank and most of all they demanded boot and other forms of footwear.

The British Inspector-General of the West African Frontier Force had recommended boots for the soldiers as early as 1903, but the British officers on the sport preferred the African soldiers to remain barefoot to suggest their inferiority to British troops. When the commanding officer ridiculed the soldiers' demands, Cole asked bluntly: "Is our flesh different from that of the white gunners?," and when their demands received no consideration, Cole organised a strike. They refused to dress properly or to come to parade until given a fair treatment.

The British decided to deal with Cole and the others in the harshest possible way, and they charged them with mutiny, a crime carrying severe punishment under the military code. Throughout the court martial proceedings, Emmanuel Cole was coolly defiant. The British officers sentenced Emmanuel Cole to fifteen years in prison and his fellow soldiers to period ranging down to eighty-four days, but Labour MPs in Britain agitated until Cole and the others were pardoned.

Soon after the mutiny, the British were finally forced to provide boots and improved conditions of service to Sierra Leonean soldiers and other soldiers throughout British West Africa. Emmanuel Cole's efforts had brought increased dignity to thousands of his fellow West Africans.

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