Pa Sorie, a Sierra Leonean who proudly served in World War II

Pa Sorie, a Sierra Leonean who proudly served in World War II
Pa Sorie/courtesy

Samuel Sorie Sesay, one of a small handful of West Africans who served in the British army during WWII, died in Sierra Leone last month at the age of 101. Umaru Fofana reflects on his life ahead of his funeral on Friday.


He had vivid recollections, yet he felt forgotten.


Pa Sorie, as he was known, was eager to converse as he approached his 100th birthday in 2020, surrounded by his huge family.


The amiable war veteran, dressed in a nice suit and adorned with his medals, told recollections of his time fighting the Japanese in Burma more than 75 years ago.


He was part of a contingent of 90,000 West African troops sent to Asia.


They fought in a conflict that was overshadowed by events closer to Britain’s shores, and they created two divisions that are little commemorated.


Pa Sorie, like many of his companions, claimed that he was promised a lump-sum payout after the war but never received it.


The British army did not pay pensions to World War Two soldiers unless they were disabled in battle, regardless of where they came from. However, according to a document discovered in 2019, African soldiers were paid less while serving than their British colleagues.


Pa Sorie did, however, receive funding from the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League, a UK-based organization.


Despite his dissatisfaction with the lack of financial reward, Pa Sorie stated that he had no regrets about joining the army as a youngster in 1939 and fighting “the good cause.”


He remembered the old army songs and chanted, “Hitler ayy bongolio!” with his fist clenched.


He claimed the words were in Hindi, but he couldn’t recall what they meant. The use of the German dictator’s name, on the other hand, hints at what might have influenced him to sign up.


Pa Sorie spoke about fighting Hitler’s troops in Burma, despite the fact that the opponent there was Japan, not Germany.


The men for the West African divisions were recruited in a variety of ways. According to historian Dr. Oliver Owen, several people joined after hearing that they would be fighting Hitler’s bigoted Nazi ideology.


Pa Sorie first flew to Lagos for training, where he joined Nigerians as well as recruits from the Gambia and the Gold Coast (now Ghana). They were prepared for jungle warfare, which they would encounter in Burma.


Pa Sorie recalled being terrified and unsure about what was ahead while hacking and crawling through thick jungle in Nigeria, but he claimed they rapidly overcame those concerns.


After arriving in Asia, he took part in the Arakan expedition, which attempted to advance into Burma, which Japan had seized, and prevent its army from attacking India.

Pa Sorie shared a story from his childhood “The Japanese tried to blow up a long bridge to prevent us from crossing it, so we fought over it. But we defeated them and crossed into the jungle to make up camp “..


‘I never blink On duty.’


Soldiers faced difficult conditions as they navigated the deep forest while carrying supplies on their heads.


It had been a long and arduous struggle against an adversary who knew how to fight in the forest. In addition to the danger, veterans have said that other men died from weariness.


Pa Sorie recalled falling asleep on duty once. When he awoke, a British soldier was holding a machete over his head and threatening to kill him, which Pa Sorie mistook for a joke.


His military awareness was forever altered as a result of this.


“After that, I never even blinked on duty again,” he replied with a big smile.


Following the war’s end, he joined Sierra Leone’s public service, eventually working in the country’s mission in what was then the Soviet Union.


His fighting achievements, however, were not lauded either before or after the country’s independence in 1961.


He was not honored by the government, and despite being one of Sierra Leone’s last World War II soldiers, he was hardly known in the country.


Pa Sorie was a common sight near his home, determinedly climbing the hills of the Tengbeh Town region in the west of the city, Freetown, according to his grandson John Konteh, who was still able to walk without a stick well into his nineties.


Mr. Konteh stated, “He was a very resilient human being who symbolized and personified our character as a resilient people.”


Pa Sorie’s family will remember his war effort during his funeral on Friday and hope that others will begin to recognize his and his companions’ contributions.


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