13.01.2009 Feature Article

Obituary: Major Seth Anthony By Cameron Duodu

Obituary: Major Seth Anthony By Cameron Duodu
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The Second Word War ended 64 years ago.
So it is no wonder that the funeral, on 19 December 2008 of Major Seth Anthony, who died on 20 November 2008 at the age of 93, appears to have escaped the attention of many of his fellow citizens, especially those in the media.

Fortunately, the Ghana military turned out, on their best form, first at the Garrison Methodist/Presbyterian Church in Burma Camp, and then at Osu Military Cemetery, to give him a rousing send-off.

Seth Anthony's story is fascinating because it demonstrated in him, qualities that can enrich our nation if emulated by coming generations.

First was his prescience. After finishing his elementary education at the Bremen Mission School at Keta in 1929, he entered Achimota to train as a teacher. (In those days, Achimota was both a Teacher Training College and a Secondary School). Anthony so impressed his teachers that after two years, they transferred him to the secondary school division. He obtained exemption from the "London matriculation" exam.

In 1937, Anthony was invited to join the staff of Achimota School to teach Latin, English and Mathematics. While carrying out the onerous duties of a teacher, he joined the Gold Coast Territorial Force of the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF) in 1939 as a part-time soldier. This meant cycling twice a week from Achimota to Accra for training. So, by the time the Second World War broke out in September 1939, he was already a semi-trained soldier. Professor D E K Amenumey, in his excellent book, Outstanding Ewes of the 20th Century, commented that it looked as if "an unseen hand" was directing Anthony's footsteps.

Now, just before the beginning of the war, a scheme had been hatched whereby educated Africans could be enlisted into the Gold Coast Territorial Force as Officer Cadets. Anthony applied and was accepted. He was enlisted as GC 15347 Cadet Private and was posted to the 5th Battalion of the Gold Coast regiment. He rose to be Cadet Sergeant in exactly three months.

Ghana was of great strategic significance during WW2, what with Vichy France's forces surrounding her in neighbouring Togo, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) and Ivory Coast. So the British secretive Special Operations Executive (SOE), which later became MI6, had a large presence there. Also, British aircraft meant for the North African campaign were crated and shipped to Takoradi harbour and reassembled to be flown north. Guarding the harbour and manning the coastal defences fell to Anthony's Battalion.

Anthony was also involved in training many of the 65,000 Ghanaians conscripted by Ghanaian chiefs as "volunteers" to fight for Britain. 30,000 of these fought abroad, helping to liberate Somaliland and Ethiopia (Abyssinia). They later fought with the 81st Division, RWAFF, to defeat the Japanese at Myohaung, in Burma. "Myohaung Day" is still celebrated by the Ghana Armed Forces in commemoration of that victory.

Seth Anthony went to Burma, but before he went, something extraordinary happened. He was at Takoradi when he received orders to go to Accra, ostensibly to be drafted to the war front. But it was only a ruse to test his courage. When he got there, the General Officer Commanding West African troops informed him, instead, that he was being sent for officer training at the prestigious officer training college, Sandhurst, in England!

Anthony entered Sandhurst on 17 November 1941. It was there that he exhibited the second impressive quality he possessed -- endurance. Racism was almost official policy in the British army in those days. No less a person than Winston Churchill, Britain's famous wartime Prime minister, came out against commissioning blacks as officers. So just imagine what Anthony must have gone through as the only black officer cadet on his course. It is possible that the College authorities wanted ti drive him out: one day, he returned to the College a few seconds late after a weekend in London (his train had been late). He was ordered, as punishment, to clear snow from the parade ground for fourteen days!

Braving the cold and clearing the snow was bad enough. But worse was the self-consciousness and humiliation that such a public punishment aroused in him. In his imagination, he could hear every student saying, "Ahah! Bloody N***er, you want to become an officer like a whiteman. Do it and let us see." But Anthony accepted the punishment and scaled over any other hurdles in his way, to win his commission as a Second Lieutenant (No. 232604) on 2 April 1942.

No sooner was Anthony back home than he embarked for Burma. On the way, the ship carrying the troops berthed at Durban, and it was there that Anthony exhibited a third quality -- strong self-discipline. He was walking past a pub when some white comrades spotted him and hailed him to come in for a beer. But the white landlady refused to serve Anthony. The other officers told her: "Hey lady, this man holds the King's commission!" But the woman retorted that he was a "Kaffir" non-the-less and she didn't "serve Kaffirs". It was the sort of insult that makes a soldier "shoot up" a pub. But not Anthony. He quietly left.

Again, in gaining promotion at the war front and becoming a Major, Anthony would have had to give orders to white captains, lieutenants, and, the most saucy lot of all

-- the white non--commissioned officers. But if they resented it, he took no notice.

More serious was the fact that he lived in two worlds -- he couldn't fraternise with the "men" as he would have liked; and he had to hide his anger at the disdain the white officers exhibited towards black soldiers.

Field Marshal William Slim, who became Britain's Chief of the Imperial General Staff, remarked on this attitude of the British officers in his book, Defeat into Victory: too many British officers, he wrote, believed that all an African soldier needed was "a handful of rice and some bush to crawl under to sleep!" In enjoying the privileges provided at the officers' mess in the company of such officers, Anthony ran the risk of being regarded by his compatriots as a "sell-out" who condoned racism.

But he won them over with his prowess as a soldier. The story went round the Gold Coasters that Anthony had been given a bodua (horse-tail whisk) by a powerful Anlo jujuman and that neither he nor anybody who obeyed his commands faithfully could be harmed by enemy bullets. In Burma, he even got a reputation as someone who could "vanish" at will. This was because he and his men could operate behind enemy lines, live off the land, and strike at the enemy and vanish back into the jungle.

He taught the British a lot about jungle warfare. He was mentioned in dispatches and received an MBE. At the end of the war, Anthony participated in the victory parade in London. Back home too, he rode triumphantly in an open car with Field Marshall Lord Montgomery of Alamein fame, at a victory parade.

Demobbed, Anthony was given a "European appointment" -- Assistant District Officer. He moved up in the civil service and became Assistant Secretary at the Ministry of the Interior, but as independence for Ghana approached, he was transferred into our infant diplomatic service. It fell to him to open the Ghana embassy in Washington. He also served at the United Nations in New York, Ottawa, Paris, Geneva, Delhi and London.

He retired in 1973 to live a quiet life in Accra. In retirement, he demonstrated another marvellous trait of character: he continued to be so self-effacing that I have not been able to find a single newspaper interview that he gave whilst alive!

Anthony was awarded one of Ghana's highest honours, the MSG, in 2007. Four months before Anthony's death -- in July 2008 -- Viscount Slim, son of the Field Marshal and president of the Burma Star Association, travelled to Ghana to decorate Anthony with the Burma Star Badge. I had written in The Ghanaian Times (13/11/2007), on the Guardian website (19/11/207), and in New African magazine (June 2008) deploring the lack of recognition which the British had shown towards Anthony, and the Burma Star decoration, though belated, was a welcome gesture.

SETH KOBLA ANTHONY, Ghanaian soldier, diplomat and administrator. Born 15 June 1915. Died 20th November 2008. Survived by Adelaide Arajoah Anthony (widow); Mrs Selina Amayo Dankwa (daughter); Mr John Kobla Anthony (son); Mrs Christiana Anokware Addae, wife of Dr Reginald Addae (daughter); Elizabeth Amewusika Anthony (daughter); Adelaide Emefa Anthony (daughter); Sophia Mawuena Anthony (Daughter) and Samuel Kwashie Anthony (son).

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