Visual Symbols and Military Culture in Britain’s West African Colonial Army (c.1900–60)

In: International Journal of Military History and Historiography
Timothy StapletonUniversity of Calgary, Calgary, Canada,

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Visual symbols like uniforms, emblems and ceremonies became central in inventing British military culture among West African forces reflecting orientalist and ornamentalist interpretations of empire. While uniforms fostered military identity, the versions devised for West African soldiers reproduced racial stereotypes and military fashion trends. Granting insignia and Colours to West African units transformed them from simplistic paramilitaries to honoured members of the British imperial milieu. Colours served as ritual objects enabling West African forces to recreate pivotal cultural events of the British regimental system. The public presence of uniformed West African soldiers promoted a sense of imperial majesty that reinforced British rule. Travelling to Britain, West African troops participated in parades and exhibitions initially displaying the epic scale of the empire, but eventually these military visitors became symbols of colonial reform. With independence, Britain’s former colonies in West Africa retained Western-style military symbols altered to highlight republicanism and modernist aspirations.

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