The Gold Coast (now Ghana) was occupied by European settlers from 1600. The last Dutch settlements were ceded to the British in 1872, bringing the colony under British control and it was administered as a separate colony from Sierra Leone from 1874. The Northern Territories of Ashanti were annexed to the Gold Coast in 1901, creating the area that is now Ghana.

The first British shots of the entire First World War conflict were fired by the Gold Coast regiment during a campaign against neighbouring Togoland (now Togo), a German colony.

First campaign of the war

CO 99/27

Accra, Gold Coast Government Gazette, 1914. CO 99/27

The Gold Coast was the only British colony to border Togoland, home to the most strategically important point in Germany’s African colonies: a radio transmitter station at Kamina, completed in June 1914. The transmitter linked Germany’s African colonies to South America and ships in the South Atlantic, and was described by the Governor, Sir Hugh Clifford, as: ‘destined to be the pivotal point of the German world-wide wireless system’.

At the outbreak of the war, Major von Doering, the Governor of Togoland, telegraphed Accra proposing Togoland and the Gold Coast remain neutral. This would ensure continuing beneficial trade arrangements. This proposal was immediately refused by Britain and an ultimatum requesting surrender was instead dispatched.

On 12 August 1914, two companies of the Gold Coast Regiment invaded Togoland and, finding the governor had retreated, succeeded in capturing the capital, Lomé. They fired the first British shots of the war. As they and other British and French forces moved through the German colony, the German governor ordered the destruction of the transmitter station at Kamina on 24 August 1914 and surrendered the next day. The principal objective of the war in the German colonies was achieved within a month (CO 96/547).

Gold Coast Regiment

CO 1069/40

Recruiting Durbar at Nsaba, Central Province, Gold Coast, 1917. CO 1069/40

The Gold Coast was principally defended by the Gold Coast Regiment of the West African Frontier Force. The Regiment had initially been formed to keep the peace in the Ashanti region prior to the war. During the First World War, it remained on active service in Togoland, The Cameroons and East Africa almost continuously (CO 445).

The Gold Coast regiment received a cable that war was imminent on 29 July 1914. By 31 July, the Gold Coast Regiment was mobilised and ready for action when war was declared on August 4 (CO 99/27).

The success of the African troops in their first campaign against Togoland meant in 1915 and 1916 the War Office considered using them elsewhere as Imperial forces to boost manpower.

Major Austin Haywood was appointed to lead a recruiting mission to the Gold Coast and Nigeria. At the beginning of the war, the Gold Coast regiment had an approximate total strength of around 1,400 men. By the end of the war, nearly 10,000 Gold Coast men had been recruited. This included non-combatants like gun and transport carriers and drivers, many of whom had been recruited following pressure placed on chiefs (CO 554/31).

Following their success in Togoland, troops from the Gold Coast served in the Cameroons campaign between 1914 and 1916, and were then selected to serve in German East Africa in July 1916 (WO 372/3/145673).

War effort

WO 95/5388

Composite Battalion War Diary fragment, Sierra Leone, September 1915. WO 95/5388

The Gold Coast did not only supply troops and labourers. The colony also contributed to the cost of the war through various funds and the offer of cocoa supplies.

The cocoa offer was appreciated but refused by the British government as sufficient supplies had already been provided by the West Indies. Instead, various subscription funds were set up, including donations from across the country to the Prince of Wales’s National Relief Fund, the Aeroplane Fund, the Red Cross Fund, Lady Clifford’s Fund for Indian Soldiers, King George’s Fund for Sailors and the Fund for Relief of Disabled Soldiers Gold Coast Regiment, amongst many others.

This was accompanied by an Imperial War Fund donation by the Gold Coast government for up to £200,000 over ten years (CO 99/33).

Key figures

Lieutenant-Colonel F C Bryant

Temporary Commander of the Gold Coast Regiment

Brigadier-General C M Dobell

Brigadier-General C M Dobell

Inspector General of the West African Frontier Force

Detail of NPG x67153 , Sir Charles Macpherson Dobell, © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Major von Doering

Deputy Governor of Togoland

W C F Robertson

Acting Governor of the Gold Coast

Captain Georg Pfȁhler

German military commander

Major Austin Haywood

Led recruiting mission to Gold Coast

Key documents

FO 925/7601

Gold Coast, Ashanti and Northern Territories, 1916. FO 925/7601

  • Government Gazette announcing the declaration of war to the chiefs and people of the Gold Coast CO 99/27
  • Government Gazette 1918 CO 99/33
  • Strachey to War Office: letter, 24 August 1916, plans to undertake a recruitment tour CO 554/31/40535
  • Gold Coast despatches, 21 July 1914-8 September 1914 CO 96/547
  • Medal card of Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Carkeel Bryant, awarded the CMG following the defeat of German troops in Togoland WO 372/3/145673
  • West African Frontier Force CO 445