'Invisible' story of bravery in First World War told in touring Somali exhibition
PUBLISHED: 11:19 12 November 2018 | UPDATED: 11:19 12 November 2018
It’s a hidden part of British history, but to a community it’s a chapter that means a great deal.
Brent’s Somali population doesn’t always feel like it gets a good press, but its First World War history is a proud one.
That’s according to the people behind a travelling exhibition – Somali People and the First World War – sharing Somali neighbours’ memories of their relatives’ service in the 1914-1918 conflict.
Curator Rhoda Ibrahim said: “We organised this because we have second generation British Somalis here who can feel a lack of direction. Children who feel they don’t belong.
“We want people to feel part of this country. Their grandparents contributed so much in the First World War.”
The exhibition’s story begins after the lands inhabited by the Somali people were carved up between the British, Italians and French.
This country’s share was named British Somaliland and when war broke out in 1914 it was drawn into the conflict on Britain’s side.
Some wanted to stay neutral and some were opposed to foreign rule, but others joined the Somaliland Camel Corps, set up by Britain to take advantage of Somali skills with camels.
The corps saw action, often in the Far East, as well as at home serving against the “Mad Mullah”, Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, a patriotic leader who fought a 20-year battle against the British, French and Ethiopian empires.
On Somali involvement on Britain’s side, Ms Rhoda, director of support group Somali Advice and Forum of Information (SAAFI), said: “Some people felt it was taking the coloniser’s side.
“But it was our grandparents who did it. I haven’t met anyone who said it was wrong. Some people say, ‘Why remember colonial history?’ But we are part of that history. We live in Britain. We are British. It’s something to be proud of.
“We should tell that story to our children.”
Dorian Knight, heritage officer with Brent Museum which helped with the project, said the exhibition was a great way of highlighting an invisible story. “There’s a shared history here which a lot of people won’t have realised before,” he said.
The exhibition is on show at Willesden Green Library until January.