Isaac Fadoyebo, who has died aged 86, survived for 10 months behind enemy lines in Burma after being critically wounded in a Japanese ambush and left for dead.
Fadoyebo, a Nigerian serving with the Royal West African Frontier Force, was rescued by a courageous Burmese villager who risked execution at the hands of the Japanese to conceal the injured soldier in his home.
(His obituary appeared in the Daily Telegraph, and was not written by me. His story was one of those explained in one of my previous blogs.)
After returning to Nigeria, Fadoyebo composed a full account of his experiences, entitled A Stroke of Unbelievable Luck, a copy of which now resides in the Imperial War Museum. This short and gripping work is one of only a handful of written records left by the 100,000 Africans who fought for Britain in the Burma campaigns.
Fadoyebo’s brush with death came at about 8am in February 1944, when his unit was having breakfast in the Kaladan Valley in Japanese-occupied territory in western Burma. Unknown to them, the enemy was about to spring a devastating ambush.
When the assault began, the firing was so intense that Fadoyebo had no chance to take cover. As his comrades were cut down around him, a bullet struck his right leg, shattering the femur, while another penetrated his side.
With his battledress soaked in blood, Fadoyebo lay helpless and surrounded by corpses. Having wiped out the British unit, Japanese soldiers then approached to strip the dead of their weapons and ammunition. Fadoyebo remembered how two or three enemy troops came up to his prostrate form with fixed bayonets. Remarkably, they did not finish him off, probably because they believed he was about to die anyway.
But Fadoyebo clung to life, heartened when it became clear that there was another survivor – a soldier from Sierra Leone called David Kagbo, who was also terribly wounded. The two men encouraged and supported one another; years later Fadoyebo would refer to this man as “my comrade in adversity”.
Then, out of the rainforest, came some Burmese villagers. They were Rohingya Muslims who supported the British against the Japanese occupation. They bandaged the wounds of the two Africans and brought food and water. Later, when Fadoyebo and his companion were capable of being moved, they were brought to a nearby village.
One man, known as Shuyiman, took the immense risk of concealing the African soldiers in his home alongside his family. “The chances were they were going to be executed, perhaps along with us,” Fadoyebo later wrote.
Hiding in fear of his life
For the next 10 months, the Africans hid in the village and slowly recovered. Japanese patrols occasionally carried out searches, but the fugitives were never found. In December 1944 British soldiers liberated the area and discovered Fadoyebo and Kagbo; they were taken to hospital to complete their recovery and then repatriated to their respective homelands.
Isaac Folayan Fadoyebo was born on December 5 1925 at the village of Emure-Ile, south-western Nigeria. In 1942, at the age of 16, he volunteered to join the British Army in a fit of what he later described as “youthful exuberance”.
Having been accepted into the Royal West African Frontier Force, Fadoyebo embarked on the six-week voyage from Lagos to Bombay, via the Cape, in late 1943. While in India, en route to Burma, he was deployed to police a pro-independence rally addressed by Mohandas Gandhi. At the time he attributed no great significance to this occasion. The thought that Nigeria might one day be independent of British rule simply did not arise.
After his war service, Fadoyebo returned to Nigeria and settled in Lagos, where he became a civil servant. Earlier this year, Barnaby Phillips, a British journalist working for al-Jazeera International, travelled to Burma and tracked down the daughter and grandchildren of Shuyiman — the man who had risked everything to rescue Fadoyebo. Phillips was able to deliver a letter of thanks from the Nigerian. Fadoyebo hailed this brave Muslim Burmese as “the man whom God sent to save my life”.
Isaac Fadoyebo’s wife, Folasade Florence, predeceased him. He is survived by six daughters.
Isaac Fadoyebo, born December 5 1925, died November 9 2012
First published in the Daily Telegraph