Major Seth Kwabla Anthony was the first black African to gain His Majesty’s commission. Anthony served in the British Army’s 81st division of the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF) rising to major despite the “color bar”.
Anthony was teaching Latin, English, and Mathematics at his alma mater, Achimota School when he joined the Gold Coast Territorial Force of the RWAFF in 1939 as a part-time soldier. Already a semi-trained soldier when the second world war broke out in September 1939, Anthony applied to be enlisted into the Gold Coast Territorial Force as Officer Cadets.
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.
In the book, Outstanding Ewes of the 20th Century, Professor D.E.K. Amenumey spoke of Anthony’s swift rise, noting that it was as if “an unseen hand” was directing his footsteps.
In a 2009 eulogy of Anthony, Martin Cameron Duodu, a United Kingdom-based Ghanaian novelist, journalist, editor, and broadcaster, recalled some of Anthony’s battles with racism and how he surmounted it.
“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!,” Duodu wrote.
“Anthony entered Sandhurst on 17 November 1941. It was there that he exhibited the second impressive quality he possessed — endurance. Racism was an 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 to 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,” the renowned journalist wrote.
Anthony trained many of the 65,000 Ghanaians conscripted by Ghanaian chiefs as “volunteers” to fight for Britain, 30,000 of whom fought abroad. They liberated Somaliland and Ethiopia (Abyssinia), and later defeated the Japanese at Myohaung, Burma.
After the war, Anthony participated in the victory parade in London. He was given a “European appointment” back home as Assistant District Officer. He moved up in the civil service and became an Assistant Secretary at the Ministry of the Interior.
Ahead of Ghana’s independence, he was transferred into the infant diplomatic service and attached to the British embassy in Washington. After independence, it fell to him to open the Ghana embassy in Washington, according to Duodu. Anthony also served at the United Nations in New York, Ottawa, Paris, Geneva, Delhi, and London.
He was awarded one of Ghana’s highest honors, the MSG, in 2007. He was also decorated with the Burma Star Badge four months before his death. He was mentioned in several dispatches during the Second World War and was the recipient of an MBE, Military Division.
Anthony, born June 15, 1915, died November 20, 2008.