When I watched the Remembrance Day Service on BBC television on Sunday 10 November it was, as ever, very moving.
But at about 52 minutes into the programme I sat up, startled to listen to David Dimbleby telling the audience in hushed tones that 55,000 African troops served during the Second World War.
Dimbleby went on to say that: “…10,000 died, but that they have not given proper graves, with their names and rank, because when they died, their names were not recorded and no burial places reserved for them.”
This is – of course – entirely incorrect, as I pointed out in a complaint to the BBC.
“It is a great pity that in his commentary for the Remembrance Day service David Dimbleby was so wildly inaccurate about the contribution of the African troops in World War Two. He said that they contributed 55,000 troops, of whom 10,000 died. The figure for the East African King’s African Rifles alone was 323,480, with West Africa’s Frontier Force contributing 121,650.
“South Africa provided 333,000 (of whom some 123,000 were black) and to this total must be added the troops of the High Commission Territories, Mauritius, Seychelles and Northern and Southern Rhodesia, as well as 100,000 Egyptians. His statement that they were not given proper burials with named memorials is also only partially true.
“I have visited the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Keren in Eritrea. It is not only immaculately maintained, but commemorates named individuals, whether they came from India, Sudan or Britain.”
I gave the source for this information: Table 2, page 44 of David Killingray, “Fighting for Britain: African Soldiers in Second World War.”
Now, finally, the BBC has admitted the broadcast was incorrect.
“Thank you for getting in touch with us about Remembrance Sunday broadcast on 10 November and for sharing your views about our coverage.
“We are sorry to learn of your disappointment about this, I have reviewed the broadcast and located the figures you have referred to. Unfortunately due to the live nature of broadcasts such as this, mistakes of this nature regrettably can happen on occasion. Please be assured, there is no intention to cause any offence. I have forwarded your concerns to the production team who welcome all forms of feedback as it can help inform our future broadcasts.
“We do value your feedback about this. All complaints are sent to senior management and I’ve included your points in our overnight report. These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the BBC and ensures that your concerns have been seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future content.
“Thank you once again for getting in touch.
These are graves in Keren, Eritrea, containing troops of many nations