The South African Native Labour Contingent, 1916-1918

TitleThe South African Native Labour Contingent, 1916-1918
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1978
AuthorsWillan, B. P.
JournalJournal of African History
Date Published01/1978

Between September 1916 and January 1918 a total of 25,000 black South Africans enlisted for non-combatant labouring duties with the South African Native Labour Contingent (S.A.N.L.C.) in support of the British forces in France. Of these, 21,000 in fact left South Africa, the first two companies arriving in France on 20 November 1916, the last leaving France on 5 January 1918. While there, they did various kinds of work-loading and unloading in the docks of the French channel ports, building roads, working on railways, quarrying, and other similar activities at varying distances behind the front lines. Very little information about any aspect of the raising of the S.A.N.L.C., its service in France, or any wider importance that this may have had can be found in the secondary literature. It is a subject, however, of considerable interest and is in many ways a revealing episode in South Africa's history. It is the purpose of this paper to throw some light upon it, and to explore some of the issues surrounding it.

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