A modest, but historically fascinating view of an often unseen aspect of WW1 has gone on display in the sumptuous Maughan Library.

It looks at how people from the British colonies joined in the European conflict, but more tellingly how some used it as an opportunity to ferment support for independence back home.


It’s very much a words on display boards sort of exhibition, the sort of thing that can be put into a pdf document, but is likely to be more widely read when printed out and enlarged.

Taking a look at a number of significant figures, it looks at why each person was motivated to move against colonial rule, and their often untimely fate at the hands of the allies.

From the remote villages of Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Islands to the bustling cities of Auckland, Accra, and Constantinople, people were dragged to fight for their so-called mother country.

British nurses and Belgian priests, Polish artists and Maori doctors, Indian sepoys and African askaris, Jamaican poets and Arab intellectuals traversed the globe and had their views of the world challenged and, often, changed forever.

They also learned new languages, experienced other ways of life, and exchanged food, knowledge, and stories.

Twelve people have been chosen for the display, from barely known people to the famous Mata Hari.


Probably as fascinating though is how the Germans treated prisoners of war from the colonies. They played a game of propaganda to persuade the prisoners that they were fighting for the wrong side, so treated them well, and for the Muslim prisoners, even built a mosque to pray in.

This was also international politics as otherwise neutral countries were invited in to see how well prisoners were treated, and to persuade them to remain neutral.


The display is mostly text, but a few items are in a couple of glass cases to add a bit of tangible context, but the text is what makes the exhibition worth visiting, it really is a bit of an eye-opener.


Anyone interested in an often overlooked aspect of the colonial involvement in WW1 really should pay a visit.

To go in, you need to print off a ticket, otherwise the security guard might grumble a bit, and then let you in anyway. The exhibition is open Mon-Sat until 17th December. Entry is free.


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