7 Feb 2008
Ninety-year-old Pa J.T. Ndikum looks back at decades of life and adventure.
He is over ninety but he has the physique of a man in his seventies. Pa J.T Ndikum lives in a modest modern apartment in the ‘Old town quarter’ of Bamenda, in the North West Province of Cameroon. As one of the few surviving veterans of World II, J.T Ndikum is conscious of his long lifespan as he jokingly said that “God has forgotten me”. I came visiting after Midday in the company of one of his ‘Old town’ neighbors Limuna Christopher on January 25th 2008.
Pa J.T Ndikum’s names seem to have undergone some metamorphosis. In 1937, the ‘consulaire de la Republique Francaise du Cameroon’ gave him a driver’s license bearing the names Temboue Deko. The names on his discharge certificate issued by the British were Tepue Ndeko and today he goes by the names Joseph Tepue or (Tepen) Ndikum.
J.T. Ndikum and wife Regina at their Bamenda residence (Jan 2008) Photo: Njei M.T
When I asked him what his names were, Pa J.T Ndikum did not seem enthusiastic to tell me. “As you have heard on the TV, I cannot call my name again. I am sick so I can not call the name again”. When he mentioned TV, I guessed he was referring to the mobile phone conversation I had with one of his daughters Grace before I came to visit him. I did later contact his other daughter Brigitte based in the U.S to get additional information about him that he could not furnish himself. Your age? “What did they tell you my age was?” He shot back. “I was told you could be over ninety”. I said. “I fought during the second world war. I think that I can be around ninety. I do not know when I was born”.
What were you doing as a kid?
“My father was a blacksmith and I usually assisted him. He had two horses and I and my brother used to go and feed them.” Pa J.T told me that his father worked as a servant to the German colonialists (Cameroon was under German colonial rule until 1918 when allied forces defeated Germany in World War I and partitioned Cameroon between France and Britain). Pa J.T Ndikum was born in Babadjou. He narrated how his dad told him how they employed mystical means to chase away the Germans from Babadjou. “The Germans were chased by fog”. How did he become a soldier?
“I did not join the army on my volition. I was a driver on Douala-Bamenda-Mamfe road.” “When I was coming from Mamfe with my passengers, I was kidnapped by white soldiers in Bali. I abandoned the vehicle at Bali with the passengers. The next morning, I found myself in Victoria (some 300kms from Bali). I was forced into a ship along with others and we were taken to Sierra Leone-a journey that took about 2 weeks”. Upon arrival in Sierra Leone, a German aircraft attempted unsuccessfully to sink their ship. “When we came out of the ship, our heads were shaved and guns given to us. At a place in Sierra Leone called Wilberforce I was given a truck to drive. My family did not know where I was until after close to three years when we were allowed to write letters. The story is bad to narrate. I don’t know what to say. My number in the army was 38439. I was of the 4th Batallion HQ- Nigeria Regiment”. Pa J.T Ndikum will like to be called a General but information obtained from his military records indicates that he was enlisted in Victoria (now Limbe) on 2nd May 1941 and discharged on the 31st January 1946. His rank was Driver GP “B” Class II.
J.T Ndikum likes to be sorrounded by military relics. (photo: Njei M.T)
Information on his discharge documents read as follows;
‘Driver with colours’
Final Assessments of Conduct and Character on leaving the Colours.
Military Conduct: Very Good
Testimonial: This man has served in my army for three years. He has given no trouble and has carried out his duties satisfactory. He is reliable, efficient, trustworthy and sober. He has proved himself a competent driver under adverse condition in India and Burma.
The above assessments have been read to the soldier.
Place: Ikeja Date: 12 January 1946
Pa Ndikum told me that during his wartime career, he had been to Egypt, Gibralta, South Africa, Bombay (India) and Burma. When I told him that I visited Bombay (now Mumbai in 2005) he gave me a handshake and exclaimed; “tell me something, wonderful!” I could now feel the current passing between us. Pa J.T was not more complaining about his health as he did at the beginning of the conversation. Did you ever kill an enemy in combat? Surprised (showing me a stump of one of his fingers he lost in combat) “Yes” was his answer. Lamenting the fact that fellow soldiers were misusing their money, he said that “I cannot discuss to the hearing of people what soldiers were doing with their money.” When I suggested that soldiers were certainly squandering their money on women and booze, he nodded in agreement, adding; “I was wise to save my own with Barclays bank”. Reflecting on the “bad” things that soldiers did, Pa J.T told me how they used to be lined up naked for control of venereal diseases. “Those infected were given injections”. [certainly penicillin]. “Since I was discharged from the British army I was promised pension which I have never received anything”. How long has it been that you have waited for pension? “Some people take their own pension money and I was told to wait. I have waited since I was discharged and I will soon die with no answer yet”. I inquired if he has taken his complain to the British and Cameroon government and he told me that he has done so and was told at one time that his name has not been seen. Could it be because his names have undergone several transformations? I wondered. Was he married before going to fight?
“I came back before I married. I had 12 children with two wives”. If you were to start your life all over what will you want to be? “If I was to start my life all over I will still prefer to be a driver”. What is the happiest thing that has happened to you? “The happiest thing that has happened in my life is my longevity. I can say that it is as if God has forgotten me” Do you know of some age mates that are still living? “No”. “The Rev father used to ask why God loves me so much?”
He is passionate about the army. He likes appearing in his military fatigues and usually brightens up if he starts discussing his military past.
Different faces of J.T celebrating life and adventure
Pa J.T took me on a tour of his house, explaining in detail the many photos and military objects hanging on the walls. He showed me two solid trunks in his bed room that were given to him by the allied army to bring back his personal belongings after he was discharged from the British army.
We ended the discussion on the veranda of the house by sharing a drink and chatting with one of his wives (Regina) who was selling small items on the corridor. The other wife Cecilia lives with one of Pa’s sons within Bamenda.
Njei Moses Timah