The West African Frontier Force
(RWAFF) was a multi-battalion field force, formed by the British Colonial Office
in 1900 to garrison the West African
colonies of Nigeria
, Gold Coast
, Sierra Leone
. The decision to raise this force was taken in 1897 because of concern at French colonial expansion in territories bordering on Northern Nigeria.
The task of raising the new locally recruited force was entrusted to Colonel F.D. Lugard who arrived in Nigeria in 1898. The following year an interdepartemental committee recommended the amalgamation of all existing British colonial military forces in West Africa under the designation of the West African Field Force.
On formation in 1900, the RWAFF comprised:
By 1908 the RWAFF in Northern Nigeria comprised two battalions of infantry, two batteries of artillery and one company of engineers. The infantry battalions at that time had an establishment of 1,200 men, the artillery 175 and the engineers 46. There were 217 British officers, non-commissioned officers and specialists. Mounted infantry detachments were subsequently raised. The standard weapon was the .303 Martini-Enfield carbine, with QF 2.95 inch mountain guns (quick firing pack howitzers) for the artillery.
The parade uniform
of the RWAFF throughout its history was a distinctive one. It comprised khaki drill
with red fezes
, scarlet zouave
style jackets edged in yellow and red cummerbunds
. Artillery units wore blue jackets with yellow braid and engineers red with blue braid. African warrant officers were distinguished by yellow braiding on the front of their jackets. The badge on the fez was a palm tree. For field dress khaki shirt, shorts, jersey and puttees
were worn with a round kilmarnock cap.
British officers wore khaki serge or drill uniforms with tropical helmets for review order and field dress. A white mess uniform with rolled collar was worn for evening functions with cummerbunds in blue for artillery and battalion colours for infantry officers.
Because of its identification with colonial rule this uniform was replaced shortly after Nigerian independence by a high collared dark green tunic, peaked cap and light coloured trousers. In Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast) a scarlet and blue British style dress uniform was adopted.
First World War (1914-1918)
The West African Frontier Force saw initial action during the occupation of the German Kamerun
(present day Cameroon
). The experience gained during in this campaign during 1914-15, in difficult terrain against stubborn resistance, made the West Africans a valuable reinforcement to the British Empire forces operating against the German Schutztruppe
(colonial troops) in East Africa led by General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck
. A single battalion of the Gold Coast Regiment arrived in German East Africa
in 1916 and was soon joined by four battalions of the Nigerian Regiment. All remained active in this theatre of war until 1918.
RWAFF strength 1914-18
- The Queen’s Own Nigeria Regiment: 9 battalions
- The Gold Coast Regiment: 5 battalions
- The Royal Sierra Leone Regiment: 1 battalion
- The Gambia Regiment: 2 companies
Battle honours 1914-18
were awarded separately to the constituent regiments of the RWAFF. These include:
Second World War (1939-1945)
In 1939 the RWAFF was transferred from Colonial Office to War Office
control. Under the leadership of General George Giffard
(GOC West Africa) the RWAFF served as a cadre for the formation of 81st (West Africa) Division
and 82nd (West Africa) Division
. Both divisions saw service during the Second World War
serving in Italian Somaliland
, and Burma
. In 1947 the RWAFF reverted to Colonial Office control.
From 1901-1938 the RWAFF was administered by an Inspector General
. From 1945 the force was administered by a Colonel Commandant
- Brigadier G. V. Kembell, DSO - 1901-1905
- Brevet Colonel T. L. N. Morland, DSO - 1905-1909
- Major-General Sir Percival Spearman Wilkinson, KCMG, CB - 1909-1913
- Brevet Colonel C. M. Dobell, DSO - 1913-1914
- Vacant - 1914-1920
- Colonel A. H. W. Haywood, CMG, CBE, DSO - 1920-1924
- Colonel R. D. F. Oldman, CMG, DSO
- Colonel S. S. Butler, CMG, DSO - 1926-1930
- Vacant - 1930-1932
- Brigadier C. C. Norman, CMG, CBE, DSO - 1932-1936
- General Sir George James Giffard, GCB, DSO - 1936-1938
- Vacant - 1938-1945 (role filled by General Officer Commanding West Africa)
The RWAFF received royal patronage through its Colonels-in-Chief
RWAFF disbanded at independence
In 1957 the British colony of The Gold Coast
obtained independence as Ghana
and the Gold Coast Regiment was withdrawn from the RWAFF to form the Ghana Regiment of Infantry
in the newly independent nation.
The RWAFF was finally disbanded in 1960 as the British colonies of Nigeria, Sierra Leone and The Gambia moved towards independence. The former RWAFF units formed the basis of the new national armies of their respective states.
- Haywood, A.; and Clarke, F.A.S. The History of the Royal West African Frontier Force. Aldershot: Gale & Polden, 1964.
- "Military Report on Northern Nigeria" published by the War Office 1908