Examining Britain’s part in the Biafran war

Frederick Forsyth (Buried for 50 years: Britain’s shameful role in Biafra, Journal, 21 January) arrived in Biafra shortly after I was evacuated in June 1967 at the start of the war, just 15 miles north of Nsukka, where I was working as a university lecturer.

No account of the Biafran war should ignore its origins in a mainly Igbo military coup in January 1966, a coup in which three Nigerian political leaders were assassinated (none of them Igbo). Among them was a man who, by popular accounts, was a modest and good politician: the prime minister, Tafawa Balewa.

The military justified their actions with widespread corruption in government. The eventual consequences were the attempted secession of Biafra from Nigeria and the dreadful war of attrition, with the British duplicity that Forsyth describes. And the children, are they not the first casualty of war? One very great sadness for me is that a dear colleague, a truly gentle man, was shot by the Biafran military because of his advocacy for the independent Nigeria (only gained from Britain in 1960). He believed in his non-Igbo language area of Biafra.
Robert Bennett

Frederick Forsyth paints a depressing picture of Britain’s role in Biafra, but his picture is rather too narrow. At the beginning of his piece he says that most of the time he is proud of his country, while mentioning a small number of other incidents that bring shame upon Britain. In fact, our whole colonial history, along with that of several other European countries, is a source of shame. While we can point to considerable incidental benefits from our colonial past – Indian railways are often cited – those benefits were almost always for our own benefit and none excused the gross exploitation of peoples and raw materials that made us rich. Too many people still look at our past as a golden age. It wasn’t.
Alan Healey
Baschurch, Shropshire

My father, an ex-RAF bomber pilot, flew for Joint Church Aid, carrying food and medicines into Biafra. He flew night flights from São Tomé to avoid the Nigerian MiG fighters and was shot down and killed by a German mercenary in September 1969 while trying to land at Uli airport. I understand several other people died with him. He is buried by the side of Uli airport. Frederick Forsyth had met my father and kindly wrote a long letter to my mother offering his sympathy for her loss. I believe he was the only British pilot out there.
Judith Nicoll
East Lydford, Somerset

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