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Once France’s sub-Saharan African colonies became independent in 1960, African troops who had served France loyally both in the world wars and in its wars of decolonization did not fit easily into the official, nationalist narrative of postcolonial African leaders of an African nation united in the struggle against French colonialism. As a result their role and experiences were largely ‘forgotten’ for some forty years after independence. A powerful symbol of this official forgetting is that, as recently as 1999, in France’s oldest African colony Senegal, a French colonial monument originally cast in 1923 to commemorate the role played by African soldiers fighting for France in World War I, was removed to a small cemetery on the outskirts of Dakar because its presence in the centre of the city was considered too redolent of the country’s colonial past. Yet five years later the monument made a great comeback to the city centre after the announcement by the President Wade, in the presence of a plethora of African heads of state of former French colonies, of the creation of a national day to commemorate the tirailleurs. At the same time he also announced that the Senegalese government would henceforth pay an allowance to all Senegalese war veterans still alive on 2 March 2000, in addition to the increase in African war veterans’ pensions recently announced by France. Following this the monument was restored to the centre of the city to become the focal point of a vast commemoration project in which the Place de la Gare was renamed the Place du Tirailleur and designated as a memorial to African soldiers who perished in both world wars.
In her thesis‘To be a moudjahida in independent Algeria: itineraries and memories of women veterans of the Algerian War of Independence’ (University of London, 2008 under the supervision of Professor Julian Jackson), Natalya Vince provides a new examination of the diverse experiences of Algerian women during the War of Independence. It is the first study to analyse female veterans’ itineraries in the post-war period, investigating their status in contemporary Algerian society and their place in collective memories at national, local and familial levels. As such, it provides counterbalance to the popular and scholarly consensus that after the war women, willingly or not ‘went back into the kitchen’. The research incorporates extensive oral interviews with 30 female veterans, unexploited primary documents from Algerian, French and British archives and a survey of 95 students at a teacher training college in Algiers on their attitudes towards the war, veterans, the teaching of history and the transmission of memory. Using oral history challenges the monolithic, top-down treatment that has dominated historiography of the Algerian War, highlighting the importance of gender, socio-economic circumstances and locality in determining wartime and post-war experiences. The case study at the teacher training college in particular highlighted continuing shifts in interpretations of the war. Many students of this generation, born at the same time as the upsurge of Islamism in Algeria, framed the War of Independence as a holy war, employing a religiously-impregnated language which is not that of their elders. Here is an extract from an interview with an FLN nurse, carried out by Natalya Vince in Algiers in December 2005.