New photography exhibition explores Sierra Leone’s history during World War II

A free photography exhibition examining the shared homelands of British military personnel and the people of Sierra Leone during the upheaval of World War II opens at the Streetlife Museum on Saturday 1 October.

The exhibit takes place during Black History Month, which takes place every October.

Corporal Fred Birden’s war photographs have been selected and reinterpreted by local members of the Hull Afro Caribbean Association who were born, lived or worked in West Africa. Their ideas bring a new dimension to an important private collection of photographs from Sierra Leone just before the decolonization of Britain.

The project is part of ongoing work between the Hull Afro Caribbean Association, Hull Museums and the University of Hull to increase the visibility of Hull’s Afro-Caribbean community.

Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, has been Hull’s sister city for over 40 years. The country remained a British colony throughout World War II and played a vital role in supporting the Allies throughout the conflict.

Siddi Maju, who played a leading role in the community consultation events, said: “The sights, sounds and excitement of life in Sierra Leone make it a very special place close to my heart.

“My homeland, Salone as we all call it, may be far away. But on my first visit to Hull in 2007, as part of the bicentenary of the abolition of the British slave trade, I could see that its capital, Freetown, was important to the people of Hull. It made me smile! The Hull Afro Caribbean Association, of which I am a member, is very proud to have worked with the University of Hull and Hull Museums to create an exhibition that introduces people living in Yorkshire to the rich history and cultural traditions of the ‘West Africa.

Dr Nicholas Evans is a lecturer in Diaspora History at the Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull and helped organize the exhibit. He said: “In designing this exhibit, we wanted to challenge local perceptions of Freetown in Sierra Leone.

“The beautiful hinterland of the only twin city of Hull is rich in flora and fauna, cultural traditions and built heritage. Yet Sierra Leone is often only heard of in the context of British anti-slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries, in reference to the civil war that engulfed the country for several decades at the end of the 20th century, or to cause of the disastrous Ebola disease. pandemic over the past decade. Our exhibition reveals lesser-known aspects of Sierra Leone’s rich and vibrant history captured in hundreds of photographs by Fred Birden during World War II. The images are an important lens through which to view the history of Sierra Leone and its people taken at a time when Hull was being bombarded during the blitz.

The exhibition was funded by Hull Museums with support from Arts Council England and the Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull. In addition to Fred’s photographs, local communities also provided exhibits of objects reflecting the themes of the exhibition, including objects from the Hull Afro Caribbean Association, the Freetown Society, Judith Harrison and the Wilberforce Institute.

The exhibition is accompanied by a program of free lectures, with more information available at

Homelands: Sierra Leone Photography in the 1940s is on display at the Streetlife Museum from Saturday October 1 to Monday October 31 and admission is free.

Tracey L. Sweeney