Defence Secretary Ben Wallace apologises after report finds failure to commemorate black and Asian WWI troops

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the Commons that the report made for “sobering reading”

The Defence Secretary has apologised after an investigation found that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) did not formally remember thousands of black and Asian service personnel in the same way as white comrades.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace issued an apology on Thursday (22 April), and told the Commons that he acknowledged that “prejudice played a part”, expressing “deep regret” over this.

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The Cabinet minister said that the report - which found that “pervasive racism” underpinned the failures - made for “sobering reading”.

The Defence Secretary has apologised after an investigation found that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission did not formally remember thousands of black and Asian service personnel (Photo: Shutterstock)

The investigation found that the failures meant potentially hundreds of thousands of black and Asian service personnel who died fighting for the British Empire were not properly commemorated.

The report found that at least 116,000 predominantly African and Middle Eastern First World War casualties “were not commemorated by name or possibly not commemorated at all”, but the figure could be as high as 350,000.

Most of the men were commemorated by memorials that did not carry their names.

The investigation also estimated that between 45,000 and 54,000 Asian and African casualties were “commemorated unequally”.

‘I want to apologise for the failures to live up to the founding principle’

Mr Wallace, chairman of the CWGC, told MPs: “There can be no doubt prejudice played a part in some of the commission’s decisions.”

He added: “On behalf of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the government, both of the time and today, I want to apologise for the failures to live up to the founding principle all those years ago and express deep regret that it has taken so long to rectify the situation.”

Mr Wallace said there were cases where the commission “deliberately overlooked evidence” that would have allowed it to find the names of the dead, and also that there were examples of the officials employing an “overarching imperial ideology connected to racial and religious differences” in order to “divide the dead and treat them unequally in ways that were impossible in Europe”.

The CWGC also issued an apology, and said the actions were “wrong then and are wrong now”, and that officials would be “acting immediately to correct them”.