Since we’re fast approaching the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I I decided to take a look at some of the more “nondescript” countries that might have played a role in the eventual outcome. I decided to start with Senegal and wasn’t really expecting to find too much. I was shocked when I did.

First we have to start with France. Way back in 1857 the governor of French West Africa decided to form something called “The Senegalese Tirailleurs” . It was comprised of mainly of locals since he didn’t have enough troops from France on hand to control the territories under his command. His request went back to the homeland and was signed and approved by none other than Napoleon III. At first, the service was voluntary and included former slaves that were returned to Senegal and the surrounding areas but as the need for more troops grew, cases of involuntary conscription weren’t unheard of.

At the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian War members of the Senegalese Tirailleurs provided support to the French garrisons located in western and central Africa. From there they participated in the French takeover of Madagascar and later saw action at Casablanca and other parts of Morocco. By the time 1913 rolled around, an entire regiment of the Senegalese Tirailleurs was invited to France. It marked the first time that the troops that served France so admirably were seen in the country.

When World War I broke out there were 21 battalions of Senegalese Tirailleurs serving in the French Army. They were stationed in parts of West Africa and Morocco. As the war in Europe intensified 37 battalions were relocated to France and began their service on the Western Front. While there are no “official” numbers (war has a habit of skewering those kinds of things) estimates are that Senegal provided France with about 200,000 additional troops. Of that, about 135,000 of those saw action in Europe and approximately 30,000 were killed.

The Senegalese Tirailleurs also saw action in France during World War II and fought battles alongside the French Army in Italy and Corsica as well as participating in the liberation of southern France from German forces.

In an apparent snub, after France was liberated, Charles de Gaulle sent the Tirailleurs back to Africa and ordered them to be replaced with white soldiers.

It wasn’t until 1964 that the last remaining Senegalese unit was disbanded from the French Army.

Just yesterday, in honor of Bastille Day and their contributions to France during World War I and World War II, a small contingent of Senegalese Tirailleurs marched in the streets of Paris alongside their French counterparts.