Dakar| Senegalese authorities have announced this morning the tragic death of Siem Bene M’Bokolo, Africa’s last surviving WWI veteran and possibly the World’s last witness to the horrors of what some have described as the ‘War to End All Wars’.
Mr M’Bokolo’s dramatic involvement in the Great War begins when at the tender age of 12 he is recruited, as other young men of his native village of Mboundou, to enroll in the 83rd Senegalese battalion under French command in 1918, at the height of the final moments of the war.
“My Grandfather was already 6’6″ feet tall when he was 12, so the French enrollment officer took him away even though he was just a child” explains his oldest grandchild.
Mr M’Bokolo and two of his brothers served at the historical and decisive Battle of Reims, also called the Second Battle of the Marne (15 July – 6 August 1918), where French forces gave a fatal blow to the last major German Spring Offensive on the Western Front.
The German defeat at the Battle of Reims marked the start of the relentless Allied advance which culminated in the Armistice about 100 days later
If Siem was lucky enough to survive the gruesome battle that killed or wounded no less than 95,000 soldiers only amongst the French troops, it was still a bitter consolation as he would be the only survivor of the 83rd Senegalese battalion to return to his native home, leaving behind two of his older brothers.
More than 600,000 soldiers were forced to enroll in the French Colonial Forces between 1914 and 1918 and at least 81,000 died on the battle field. Despite their contribution to the war effort, they received half of the pension of the white soldiers
Siem Bene M’Bokolo was born on august 16th, 1906. He served for 18 months under French command and went on to participate in France’s 1919 Occupation of the Rhineland, where between 25,000 and 40,000 colonial soldiers took part of this force. He later returned home, where he married his brothers widows and leaves behind him 16 grandchildren.