Sunday 23 October 2022

August Agboola Browne: The Nigerian who became a Polish Freedom fighter during World War 2

August Browne (centre) in a still from the Polish film Zolnierz Zwyciestwa/Soldier of Victory (1953). Source: Fototeka.Fn.Org

The son of a migrant longshoreman from Lagos, Nigeria when it was part of the British Empire, Browne became a successful Jazz percussionist in Poland during the inter-war years.

It has been claimed that he was the first Nigerian to have recorded a jazz album which was released in 1928 on the Syrena Record label. However, there is difficulty in confirming this given that the label’s factory and archives were destroyed in 1939.

Browne is believed to have taken up arms to fight the forces of Nazi Germany during the Battle of Warsaw and the subsequent Warsaw Uprising during which he was attached to Major Georg Antoczewiszka’s 2nd Battalion.

Codenamed “Ali”, he fought as a member of the Polish Underground (the Iwo Battalion which was known as the Armia Krajowa or Home Army) for the duration of the war and remarkably survived.

Browne would later act in a 1953 propaganda movie about the World War 2-era resistance in Poland which was titled Zolnierz Zwyciestwa (Soldier of Victory).

He migrated to England with his second Polish wife in 1958 (some sources put the year down as 1956) and lived quietly in London until his death at the age of 81.

A memorial stone unveiled in his memory in Warsaw in 2019 reads:

In honour of Augustine Agboola Browne, nom de guerre “Ali”, a jazz musician and a participant in the Warsaw Uprising of Africa origin. Poland was the country he chose to live in.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2022).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

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