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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 June 2007, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
Tanzania veterans' bitter-sweet memories
By Daniel Dickinson
BBC News, Dar es Salaam,

Eighty-five year old Iddi Abdallah Pengo retains fond memories of his time patrolling the coast of Somalia as a soldier in the British army in the 1940s.

Iddi Abdallah Pengo in 1942
Iddi Pengo talks fondly of "our queen"
But he is less happy at his treatment since he left the service 61 years ago.

"I served under British officers who were fair but firm," he says.

"I learnt a lot, how to fire a gun and how to be a good soldier."

He is one of the 70 surviving ex-servicemen who gather every Monday morning in Dar es Salaam, to swap old memories and receive an allowance from a British charity.

The comradeship makes the two-hour trip worthwhile, but sadly not the allowance.

He receives the equivalent of just $3 a week in recognition of the time he spent in the British army.

"I can't live on this allowance; I have no other sources of income as I am too old to work. When I get ill, somehow I have to find the money to go to the doctor," he complains.


Sergeant Pengo was one of the thousands of young men from across British colonial East Africa who joined the Kings African Rifles.

"I had heard of Adolf Hitler and that he was coming to conquer my country so I signed up to the army," he says as he rummages in a plastic bag to retrieve the last remaining evidence of his time spent as a serviceman.

We need to ask ourselves whether... as young men leaving the army, they should have been able to make a go of their own lives
Col Paul Davis
Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League
He shows off his Certificate of Service, a small discoloured booklet the pages of which are disintegrating due to the passage of time, but which documents his story as soldier number 194595 serving in the British army during World War II.

There is an Africa Star medal, which he received for serving in the British and Commonwealth forces in Somalia.

There is also a faded photograph of 20-year-old Sergeant Pengo, taken in a studio in Mogadishu in 1942.

Like many of the other ex-servicemen, he is fiercely patriotic, talking of "my country" and "our queen" - an acknowledgment of Queen Elizabeth II's role as the Kings African Rifles' last Colonel-in-Chief.

But they feel badly let down.

Legal responsibility

Ally Sykes, a veteran who served with the British army fighting the Japanese in the jungles of Burma, says they deserve more recognition - and money.

Iddi Abdallah Pengo
Mr Pengo won the Africa Star medal for his part in the war
"They won't get it from the Tanzanian government, because they never were part of the Tanzanian army. It is up to the British people to help the men who fought to defend their country," he told the BBC.

The ex-servicemen are calling for an increase in their allowance to 100,000 Tanzanian shillings a month, around $80.

That would cost the British government approximately $67,000 a year, a tiny fraction of the more than $200m it is providing in aid to Tanzania this year.

But it is not so straightforward.

Following the independence of its former colonies and protectorates, the British government no longer has a legal responsibility towards veterans.

It is a charitable foundation, the London-based Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League (RCEL) that looks after the 65,000 ex-servicemen registered in 47 Commonwealth countries, including Tanzania.

The objective is to pay each Tanzanian ex-serviceman in need 100 ($200) a year.

Those payments were stopped in 2000 after about 20,000 was sent to Tanzania, but "went missing" in the words of RCEL Secretary General Col Paul Davis.


In the meantime, the weekly payments are being sent via Mr Sykes.

Ally Sykes
Ally Sykes says the British government should pay
After the war, the Commonwealth veterans were treated in exactly the same way as British veterans, according to retired Col Davis and although there is a sense that Britain does have a moral obligation towards these men, he believes it has to be kept in perspective.

"We need to be balanced about the support we give. Some of the veterans only joined up for a year and after receiving payments after the war, we need to ask ourselves whether the UK government should be supporting them for the next 60 years or whether as young men leaving the army, they should have been able to make a go of their own lives.

"That said, RCEL endeavours to ensure that if an ex-service man or woman is in desperate need then financial assistance is given," he adds.

Most of the Tanzanian veterans are now well into their 80s.

One man proudly said he was 106 years old.

Their mementoes of the war are now faded, but the memories of fighting for Britain are still strong.

They are just hoping those positive memories will not be diminished by spending their old age in poverty.

Country profile: Tanzania
14 Mar 07 |  Country profiles

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