Charles N’Tchorere was born in Gabon on November 15, 1896.
In 1916, while the First World War was raging, he volunteered to fight for France and joined the native Senegalese infantry within which he participated in the Levant campaign. Proving to be a real leader, Charles N’Tchorere soon became sergeant and later on, in 1927, he obtained the rank of officer as a reward for his exemplary conduct.
In June 1940, after the Second World War broke out, Captain N’Tchorere was in the Somme as commander of the 5th company of the 1st battalion of the 53rd mixed Colonial Senegalese infantry regiment (53rd RICMS), which was led by Major Seymour.
A true leader
Charles N’Tchorere was held in high esteem by his fellow officers and admired by senior European staff put under his command. His company was entrusted a central role in an operation aimed at defending the small town of Airaines, 30 kilometres from Amiens, against attack from German forces that had thronged into French territory from Belgium.
The 5th company served as an operations base in an isolated hamlet, in the north of the town. The first German attack on June 4 was repelled. On the following day, June 5, there was yet another attack which met with stiff, unyielding resistance from the 5th company and the entire battalion.
On June 6, the Germans skirted and surrounded the town. Meeting with brave resistance from the battalion, the enemy launched an all-out raid, combining aviation and artillery resources. Despite the devastated state of the town, with houses all over in flames, the battalion refused to throw in the towel.
A German delegation showed up in an attempt to negotiate for the surrender of the battalion defending Airaines. Major Seymour turned down their proposal. The respite was broken by infiltration attempts from the German light infantry, which was pushed back into the woods by a counterattack from Captain N’Tchorere’s company.
Warfare of indescribable intensity
On the night of June 6 breaking 7, 1940, Airaines witnessed even more intense raids. The town was virtually transformed into a heap of smoke-emitting rubble. A fresh gust of tank-supported German infantry was unleashed directly against the 5th company. Like before, the latter exhibited much bravery, putting up fierce resistance that resulted in eight Panzers put out of action.
German grenadier light infantrymen came attacking again and succeeded this time around to blow up the battalion’s munitions store. It was then that a dozen of machete-armed Senegalese cooks emerged from their hiding niches and charged towards the enemies. In the bloody confrontations that ensued, the infiltrated attackers were butchered into pieces.
Handicapped by the lack of munitions, the battalion’s position became unbearably delicate. Major Seymour thus decided to attempt an exit towards the south by breaking through the enemy’s encirclement. In the town church, sixty German prisoners and wounded French soldiers were gathered. With Major Seymour’s consent, Captain N’Tchorere decided to stay behind to cover the battalion as they pulled back.
As the rest of the battalion forced their way through the enemy barrier in the south, the 5th company, which had been left alone to provide rearguard, was attacked from the north by the Germans. Using flame guns in a ruthless warfare of indescribable intensity, the German soldiers succeeded to overcome the pockets of resistance one by one.
The few survivors surrendered
At 10 p.m., the 5th company had barely fifteen combat-worthy men: ten Africans and five Europeans, who had exhausted their munitions and thus could not but surrender and hoist the white flag. At gun point, Captain N’Tchorere came out followed by the other survivors. The small group won the respect of the Wehrmacht soldiers, enthralled by the heroic resistance they had put up against them.
Unfortunately the Schutzstaffel, with its extreme Nazism fanatics, was present. The SS separated the Blacks from the Whites. Captain N’Tchorere refused to be considered as an Untermensch – inferior race - claiming his status as a French officer. Irritated, the SS pinned him against a wall. Realizing what these blood-thirsty brutes were up to, his buddies alongside the German prisoners who had just been released from the church protested vehemently, especially as the latter had enjoyed a rather humane treatment while in captivity. But their protests fell on deaf ears as in total defiance of the most fundamental war conventions Captain N’Tchorere was cold-bloodedly and cowardly executed by these criminals of the worst species in military outfit. As though that wasn’t gruesome enough, his body was crushed under the caterpillar tracks of a German tank.
As shocking as this might have been to the captain’s family, it happened to be just one of two soul-rending mishaps that befell them in a matter of days. Jean Baptiste, Captain N’Tchorere’s son, was also killed at the front in the same region, barely a week after his father.
Captain N’Tchorere has become a symbol
Captain Charles N’Tchorere has become a symbol; a symbol representing the commitment and the courage of the 80,000 African soldiers who fought for France and the free world, in that fateful month of June 1940.
Charles N’Tchorere, a volunteer serviceman, holder of several military decorations, who was wounded at the front and died for France, authored a report on the social promotion of indigenous non-commissioned officers that was adopted in most African units. A mausoleum has been built at Airaines in memory of his courage and sacrifice. One major street in the small town has been renamed “Avenue capitaine N’Tchorere”. In 1962, a Gabonese postal stamp carried his effigy, and the Saint Louis school for children of the military in Senegal now bears his name.