British authorities apologized Thursday after an investigation found that at least 161,000 – possibly ranging up to 350,000 – mostly African and Indian military service personnel who died during World War I weren’t properly honored due to “pervasive racism,” The Associated Press reported.
Those service members were either not commemorated by name or were not commemorated at all. And between 45,000 and 54,000 other casualties were commemorated unequally.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission said it would continue looking for the names of African, Asian and Middle Eastern casualties.
“On behalf of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the government, both of the time and today, I want to apologize for the failures to live up to their founding principles all those years ago and express deep regret that it has taken so long to rectify the situation,” Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in the House of Commons. “Whilst we can’t change the past, we can make amends and take action.”
The commission had appointed a panel to investigate unequal treatment claims.
Inequality was rooted in imperial ideologies of British and colonial authorities after WWI, according to the investigation. The officer in charge of graves registration in East Africa claimed that central memorials were the best way to commemorate the dead because most Africans “do not attach any sentiment” to graves of the dead.
“Sweeping judgements such as these, which chose to ignore the intricacies of faith, culture and customs in Africa outside Christian and Islamic traditions, played a significant role in shaping the (commission’s) policies that led to unequal treatment,” the panel said.