LONDON –– The British government on Thursday apologized for its failures to properly commemorate black and Asian troops who died fighting for the British Empire during the First World War (WWI).
Speaking in the House of Commons, lower house of the British parliament, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace expressed “deep regret”, saying that there was “no doubt” prejudice had played a part in what happened after WWI.
According to the BBC, some troops were commemorated collectively or their names were recorded in registers, while their white counterparts had headstones.
A report by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has found “pervasive racism” for what happened.
“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 their founding principles all those years ago and express deep regret that it has taken so long to rectify the situation,” said Wallace.
“Whilst we can’t change the past, we can make amends and take action,” he said.
He said there were cases where the commission “deliberately overlooked evidence” that would have allowed it to find the names of the dead.
There were examples of 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”, he added.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which is in charge of commemorating those who died in the two world wars, has also apologized over its findings.
The report found that at least 116,000 casualties from WWI, most of whom were of African, Indian or Egyptian origin, “were not commemorated by name or possibly not commemorated at all”.
But that figure could be as high as 350,000, according to the report.
Between 45,000 and 54,000 Asian and African personnel who died in the conflict were “commemorated unequally”, said the commission.
The inquiry by the commission was set up following a 2019 Channel 4 documentary titled Unremembered. Six million soldiers from the British Empire served in WWI, according to the BBC.