Albert Kunyuku Ngoma was a young Congolese corporal in the colonial Belgian army when he was forced to battle in World War II as far away as Burma, now called Myanmar.
Now 97, Ngoma is one of only two surviving former members of the colonial “Public Force” military living in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) capital, Kinshasa, who are honored in a new documentary titled The Shadow of the Forgotten!
Recalling the battles of six decades ago, Ngoma described fighting side by side with Belgium troops against the Japanese in Burma.
“In the trenches in Burma, we saw Belgian officers fall to enemy bullets,” Ngoma said. “It was a real shock for us.”
The Public Force was formed as a military unit when Belgian King Leopold II controlled the colony. Thousands of Congolese were drafted as part of the colonial armed forces, and fought during World War II in east Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Dressed in their worn-out former uniforms, Ngoma and his former brother-in-arms Daniel Miuki, 94, were praised as “living monuments” of Congolese history at a recent showing of the documentary by academic Jose Adolphe Voto.
In the film, they are shown proudly wearing their campaign medals on their chests as they recalled details of their postings from Leopoldville, as Kinshasa was once known, to the Middle East and to Burma, a British colony invaded by the Japanese during the war.
Caps on their heads and canes in hand, two men leafed together through a yellowed photograph album from Miuki’s home showing pictures dating from 1940 to 1945.
US soldiers were not great shots, they said, but they praised the combat skills of the Japanese, Chinese and Korean soldiers on the ground.
Both remember the racial segregation they had to face even as they fought shoulder to shoulder with the Belgians.
“We were like slaves, because it was Belgium that brought us into this war. We could not say anything,” Ngoma said.
“When the bombs began to fall, white and black would die the same way,” said Miuki, a former infantry nurse.
As Belgium’s prime minister visited the DR Congo this week, Miuki criticized what he called the “ungrateful” attitude of the former colonial ruler towards its Congolese ex-soldiers, saying they were tossed aside “like dirty towels.”
“France still takes care of Second World War veterans from its former colonies, and their heirs,” Ngoma said.
Congolese soldiers never received any compensation from the countries for whom they fought in 1940 to 1945, said a complaint filed in 2018 in the DR Congo by seven children of ex-combatants from the Public Force.
They accuse the former colonial power, as well as France, Britain and the US, of neglecting their parents and claimed more than US$7 million, the Belgian Ministry of Defense said.
The case was in court late last year, but no judgement has been made.
“I wanted to pay tribute to those who gave their all, not only for the Congo but in the world war,” Voto said. “I wanted them to be rewarded morally. When I spoke with them, I was disappointed to learn that they have never been recognized by Belgium.”
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