Posted by: aboutalbion | January 14, 2014

1914 …

There seems to be a gathering of strength to a UK media campaign to promote 1914 as a significant year in British history.  So far, I have noted two aspects of 1914 which are well away from the mainstream campaign.

First, I read that citizens of India sometimes refer to World War One as ‘The European War’.  This is to emphasize that, although fighters from many parts of the world were sucked in, the actual battleground was in Europe.

And this reminds me that in 1914 India was a member of the British Empire.  And as a member of the Empire, India provided around one and a half million volunteer troops to fight alongside British forces soon after hostilities broke out on European soil in 1914.  I read that the demobilization of millions of troops at the end of this war contributed to the world-wide severity of the 1918 influenza pandemic.  And the country that was the focal point for this disease holocaust was none other than India.  It is widely believed that there were in excess of ten million deaths in India from the pandemic, which world-wide killed in excess of twenty million people.

Second, the King of the City and Empire of Benin (who had been exiled by a British force in 1897) died in exile in 1914, and in that same year his son was ‘allowed’ by the British authorities to be crowned on the throne in Benin City on the condition that his people were subsumed into an existing large British administrative unit (that eventually, after independence, became present day Nigeria).

I read that, before 1897, the King of Benin (who controlled strategic rubber resources) had repeatedly turned down British overtures to become part of the British Empire.  And I read that in 1897, a British ‘punishment’ force went to Benin City to completely destroy it because the British authorities believed that the King had arranged for the ‘massacre’ of some official British visitors to Benin a month or two before.  However, just before its destruction, Benin City was looted.  Subsequently, the royal artefacts of culture were taken to London to be sold in order to defray the costs of the ‘Punitive Expedition’.  This hoard, sometimes collectively known as the ‘Benin Bronzes’, is currently dispersed among several museums around the world.

Memo to self ……. Make sure my grandchildren know that Benin City is not the capital of the present day Republic of Benin.

[I think the explanation is that the historic Benin Kingdom gave rise to the name of the wide coastal bay feature, the Bight of Benin; and the current Republic of Benin took its name (in 1975) from its coastline being adjacent to this Bight of Benin.]

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