‘The Burma Boy’ passes into history

Isaac Fadoyebo, a Nigerian who fought for the British in the Second World War, dies at 87.

Last year, I was lucky enough to make a film for Al Jazeera about a remarkable man. The report, titled “The Burma Boy“, told the story of a Nigerian, Isaac Fadoyebo, who was one of the 100,000 or so African troops who fought for the British against the Japanese in the jungles of Burma during World War II.

In 1944, Isaac was severely injured in a Japanese attack and survived for many months behind enemy lines. He owed his life to a brave family of local farmers who hid him in their hut, risking certain execution by the Japanese. Our programme evoked a wonderful response from around the world, and many people were touched by Isaac’s story.

It was with great sadness that I heard the news from Lagos that Isaac passed away on November 9. He died peacefully in hospital, surrounded by his loving family. He was a few weeks short of his 87th birthday.

Isaac was a gentleman. He was modest, gracious and unassuming.

He remembered the past with extraordinary accuracy in the researching of the film we were able to confirm, time and time again, that his account of events was historically correct.

Yet, he never sought to dramatise or exaggerate his own role.

The African contribution to the Second World War is today all but forgotten. This is true not only in former colonial powers like Britain, but even in countries like Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya, where younger generations have more immediate concerns.

In “The Burma Boy”, we tried to set the record straight to pay tribute to Isaac, and, indirectly, to the other Africans who fought in that war. I hope our efforts brought him a measure of satisfaction and happiness in his final year.

It was my privilege to have known Isaac, and to have counted him as my dear friend.

Follow Barnaby Phillips on Twitter: @BarnabyPhillips


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