The Thiaroye 1944 massacre of Senegalese soldiers by French troops – whom they fought side-by-side with has been a carefully kept secret for many years.
France has succeeded in sweeping this betrayal and murder of over 400 Senegalese soldiers under the carpet. But today, more critics and social activists are asking questions and demanding an explanation for what many have termed a ‘brutal betrayal of Africa by France.’
For some critics, the event of the Triaroye 1944 massacre is a perfect analogy of how Europe and America treat Africa. They argue that African leaders and the African Union must join hands with the Senegalese government – and people, in demanding justice.
Despite the severity of the crime, not many people – even Senegalese themselves – and sadly so, are aware of what transpired in Triaroye on December 1, 1944. This is because France has done a great job in suppressing that piece of history and eliminating evidence relating to it.
What Truly Happened in Triaroye on December 1, 1944?
The direct answer to this question is – massacre. It is on record that thousands of Senegalese soldiers fought for France against the Nazis in World War II. But on the fateful day of December 1, 1944, more than 400 of them were murdered in cold blood.
No, these Senegalese soldiers were not murdered by the Germans during the war. Instead, they were slaughtered by the French forces they fought alongside.
According to reports, on December 1, 1944, the military camp of Thiaroye – which was located fifteen kilometers away from Dakar, witnessed an unthinkable piece of history.
After four years of fighting for France, Senegalese soldiers who were returning from Europe were murdered by their French superiors and fellow comrades. The reason for the massacre was because the Senegalese soldiers requested their payments for participating in the war as was agreed.
The massacre was swept under the rug for decades, preventing victims and their relatives from any form of closure or recognition.
What Led to the Massacre in Triaroye on December 1, 1944?
During World War I and World War II, European forces used African soldiers as tirailleurs. A tirailleur team is a group of poorly trained and equipped shooters who are put at the front of the battle and sent ahead of the main columns.
The first Senegalese Tirailleurs were formed in 1857 and served France in a number of wars, including World War I (providing around 200,000 troops, more than 135,000 of whom fought in Europe and 30,000 of whom were killed) and World War II (recruiting 179,000 troops, 40,000 deployed to Western Europe).
France engaged a large number of Senegalese soldiers in the Second World War as tirailleurs. After the war, the Senegalese tirailleurs were taken to the military camp of Thiaroye, where they were supposed to await their demobilization before returning to their homes in West Africa.
After their compensation, over 500 tirailleurs were scheduled to board a train for Bamako on November 27.
However, the payments were delayed, and on the 27th, the tirailleurs refused to leave their camp and return home after four years until they were paid. They did not trust the French to send the payment to them after returning to their villages, so they insisted on receiving their payments before leaving their camps.
On hearing this, the commanding general of the Sénégal-Mauritanie Division, Marcel Dagnan—the highest-ranking officer present on that day in Dakar—went to Thiaroye the next day and ordered the massacre.
The Lies and Inconsistencies of French Administrative Reports
Right from the time of the massacre to date, France has tried to relegate all traces of this massacre to the background by manipulating the facts.
After the massacre in 1944, a military report addressed December 5, 1944 (four days after the massacre) stated that the commanding general of the Sénégal-Mauritanie Division, Marcel Dagnan, was nearly taken hostage by the camp’s tirailleurs.
In the report, this was the reason for the shootout that resulted to the killing of more than 400 tirailleurs in the camp. However, there is no document in the archives that support these claims or any form of resistance that warranted such a massacre.
Successive French governments have maintained that their military at that time only responded to threats and unlawful protests by the Senegalese officers. However, documented statements from some of the officers who were arrested are in agreement that the camp was surrounded by armoured cars, which opened fire on them.
Another insensitive misconception fuelled by the French authorities is one that relates to the actual number of casualties recorded after the massacre.
The French media insists that there were 35 deaths recorded. Upon research, it was discovered that the commanding general of the Sénégal-Mauritanie Division, Marcel Dagnan drafted two different reports, achieved separately.
The first one lists 35 victims, the second 70. A closer research revealed that the number referred to the number of graves in which the soldiers were buried.
However, photos released after the massacre showed that a mass burial was conducted, which involved more than twenty bodies in each grave.
The Senegalese soldiers who survived the massacre were arrested and imprisoned for rebellion. They were later released – but not pardoned in 1947. Independent accounts from these soldiers reveal that as many as 400 soldiers died during the massacre.
To date, French authorities are doing everything possible to wipe this event from the pages of history forever. What are your thoughts?