I'd do it all over again, says Senegalese rifleman who fought for France

Yoro Diao, 94, is one of the few surviving Senegalese tirailleurs – African colonial riflemen who fought in the French army during the country's biggest 20th century conflicts. But once the wars were over they began a new battle against the French administration to get better pension rights. Despite the difficulties, Diao’s loyalty to France remains unshakeable.

After 22 years shuttling between Senegal and France – where he lives in a migrant hostel in Bondy, north of Paris – Diao is preparing to return for good to his native village of Dagana in Saint-Louis.

The French government recently announced that he and 38 other surviving tirailleurs would no longer have to spend six months in France each year to claim their monthly state pension of 950 euros.

"It’s come a bit late, but better late than never,” says Diao.

“We have a sense of satisfaction in being able to go home in a dignified way to be near our grandchildren. It’s comforting, and perhaps it will help us live that bit longer.”

He knows time is running out.

"There used to be 27 of us in the hostel, now we're 12. The others have died."

Several of his comrades at the hostel shuffle into his modest room. The eldest, 95-year-old Mor Diop, perches on Diao's impeccably made bed.

"He's very ill; he's had almost every disease," Diao says.

M'Bodji Guorgui, 87, who like Diao is a veteran of the wars in Indochina and Algeria, sits up straight in a smart grey suit but struggles to take part in the conversation.

"His hearing was badly damaged during the explosions," Diao explains.


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