Early on the morning of the 4th of May 1916, a military column in French West Africa set out to quell a rebellion. Their mission was one small part of World War I in Africa, about which little is said in Canada. This post helps illuminate the under-appreciated global and colonial ramifications of the First World War.
The column, led by cercle commandant Henri Maubert, was composed of 759 men, mainly African mercenaries, a few tirailleurs sénégalais and handful of European officers. Marching out of Bobo-Dioulasso, situated to the south west of actual Burkina-Faso, it was heading for the rebellious village of Boho, 42 kilometres away. The column’s objective was clear: attack and destroy the fortified village and its defenders. Arriving on the 6th of May, Maubert started bombarding the strong hold which he describes in his carnet de route: “Le travail de destruction devient formidable, sans toutefois causer la moindre émotion parmi les rebelles dont le courage est véritablement superbe, ils occupent toutes les ouvertures pratiquées dans les murs, et notre feu fait des trouées terribles dans leurs masses profondes ”. A first assault on the walls failed and the column, running out of ammunition and water, had to abort its second assault and retreated to the nearest French outpost of Kofila a few kilometres away. The next morning, Mauberts sent out a scouting party to Boho which they found abandoned. On hearing the news, Maubert promptly dispatched a 600 strong demolition team to raze the fortifications and the village to the ground. Towards 5:30 pm, a messenger arrived at Kofila and described what had been found in the village : “les rebelles ont laissé dans le Boho, plus d’un millier de cadavres, trois caveaux funéraires archi-combles, dans plusieurs salles mesurant à peine 3 mètres de côté, on peut compter jusqu’à 40 corps etc. Et encore, la partie centrale de la soukala laissé debout, n’a-t-elle pas été visitée”. Among the dead were many women and children. Mahir Saul and Patrick Royer, authors of the sole monograph on this conflict, state that the death toll could have been as high as 3 000. On the French side, 70 men were injured and 10 were killed.