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The first force of forty soldiers was formed in Lagos in 1863 and was known as the Lagos Constabulary ; in the same year two other Constabularies, those of the Niger and the Niger Coast, were formed as the result of a despatch sent by John Glover, the Administrator of the Government of Lagos, to the Colonial Secretary.
These three Constabularies were later amalgamated to form the Nigeria Regiment.
The first step in this amalgamation occurred in 1873 when Glover, who as a Naval Officer had fought in Burma, led a detachment of soldiers drawn from the three Constabularies and went to the Gold Coast to take part in the Ashanti War where their performance and achievements gave ample testimony to their prowess as soldiers.
Before this the Constabularies had played a part in maintaining order in Nigeria, but with the arrival of Lord Lugard in 1899 plans were made to put the Constabularies on a proper regimental basis.
Actually the plan to raise a regular force of African troops financed from British funds had been formulated in 1897, but it was not until two years later, after Lugard’s arrival, that the Nigeria Regiment came into being as a part of the West African Frontier Force.
Initially, in 1899, there were only two Battalions, the Northern Nigeria Regiment and the Southern Nigeria Regiment ; a Mounted Infantry Unit was added to it in 1903.
During those early years the two Regiments found themselves extremely active, for they were given the task of quelling the internal strife which was a feature of Nigeria fifty years ago .
When the Nigeria Regiment was originally organised, it was formed to preserve internal security and there was no suggestion that it should go abroad, but by 1914 it had five Battalions and was a more formidable Force. Almost immediately after the declaration of war it joined an Expeditionary Force which went to the Cameroons.
After the defeat of the Germans in 1916 volunteers from the Regiment were sent to fight the German Forces under the command of General Von Lettow-Vorbeck in East Africa. During these campaigns 48 Nigerians won the D.C.M. (with 4 bars) and 30 the Military Medal.
After the first World War the Regiment settled down to its task of maintaining internal security. In 1928 His Majesty the King became Colonel in Chief of the Royal West African Frontier Force.
When the second World War began in 1939, the Nigeria Regiment, as part of the Royal West African Frontier Force, was trained in local defence and expanded from five Battalions to 13 Battalions.
The Regiment provided a Brigade to fight in East Africa where it took part with East African troops in the advance from Mogadishu in Italian Somaliland to Harar in Abyssinia.
This Brigade, when it came back to Nigeria, provided the seasoned troops which leavened the new intakes which were then being called up.
After the fall of France the Regiment had the task of protecting Nigeria from possible incursions from surrounding French Territory.
In March, 1943, the 81st West African Division was formed, to which the Regiment contributed four Battalions and Service Units.
Towards the end of 1943 the 82nd West African Division was formed, to which the Regiment contributed six Battalions and Service Units.
After the 81st West African Division arrived in Burma, the 3rd Nigerian Brigade joined General Wingate’s Chindit Force and fought in Central Burma.
The rest of the Division fought in the Arakan and constructed the remarkable “ West African Way ” into the Kaladan valley where it saw much service.
In September, 1944, the 82nd Division went to Burma and first saw action in December in the Arakan.
The two Divisions eventually met for the capture of Myohaung on 18th January, 1945. This is celebrated by the West African Frontier as a Remembrance Day.
When the Burma campaign was over, the men returned to Nigeria, and formed the basis of the present Force.
Of officers and men of both Divisions 19 won the D.S.O., 51 the M.C., 17 the D.C.M. and 100 the M.M.
* African soldiers visiting a Buddhist temple in Burma (IWM 94/2441 V. E. Harris, Photograph Album) – medium.com/…/africans-in-world-war-two-asia-encounters-acro…
Credit Kehinde Thompson