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'The boys up north': a history of South Africa's cape corps and the Indian and Malay corps in the Second World War 1940-1946

Yadav, Rishika (2022) 'The boys up north': a history of South Africa's cape corps and the Indian and Malay corps in the Second World War 1940-1946. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004484


This thesis reconstructs the histories of 40,000 non-White soldiers from the Union of South Africa who served in the Cape Corps (CC) and the Indian and Malay Corps (IMC) during the Second World War. CC and IMC were non-White, non-combatant, auxiliary units of the UDF that were in service from 1940-1946. They were deployed in the North African, East African, Madagascar, Middle East, and Italian campaigns. This thesis offers the first in-depth history of these soldiers. It uses a range of disparate primary sources to reconstruct, as far as is possible, their service history and the non-White soldiers’ voices. The study has applied innovative methodologies from the discipline of military history, widening out the institutional and war experience with an inclusion of the outer (social) and inner life (emotional). This dissertation highlights the distinctive impact of the Empire and the Union’s racial policies and politics on the service of these units, on the ‘lived experiences’ of the rank-and-file, their perceptions and responses to their service, treatment of soldiers post-war, impact of their service on their communities, and remembrance. It is based on the premise that a subaltern approach reveals the dynamic and challenging experiences of colonial soldiers that are often cloaked in the umbrella narrative of wars. This research argues that being non-White uniquely, and sometimes dramatically, impacted their military experiences, pre, during and post conflict, often in detrimental ways. However, a second central argument of this thesis is that these soldiers were not simply victims of the Empire and the Union. While they were subjected to a series of segregationist regulations, worsened by prejudices of White officers and other ranks, they also asserted agency over their own experience of the war. Within the limits of their racialised military service, they acted as professional soldiers do. Despite being confined to pioneer capacities and relegated to the bottom of military hierarchies, they performed essential wartime tasks and were commended for the same; they (re)acted against perceived institutional injustices with varying degrees of success; and they retained authority over their own unique narratives despite institutional manipulation. Nevertheless, this research also underscores the ways in which military institutions and culture, rather than being insular were influenced by society and politics, non-White soldiers being repeatedly constrained and having to accommodate both. These soldiers have traditionally not been part of World War II histories. However, their narratives contribute to a fuller understanding of this conflict. They demonstrate the mutation of racial politics and policy in wartime, the agency of rank-and-file in practicing soldiering, the permeability of modern militaries, and the impact and influence of civil society. The investigation into their non-combatant service underscores the contribution and legacies of military labour in the sub-continent, and indeed military labour in the British Empire. Additionally, this case study has significance for our understanding of race and empire in the mid-twentieth century.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2022 Rishika Yadav
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D731 World War II
D History General and Old World > DT Africa
Sets: Departments > International History
Supervisor: Lewis, Joanna

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