Born Under the Gun

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Front cover of Born Under the Gun

Born Under the Gun

A History of Kamerun, WWI, Christian Missions and the Internment Camps of Fernando Po Edition:

These pages contain stories of the explorers, soldiers and traders, missionaries and planters, and Africans part of the colonial expansion. This book contains many stories from Cameroonians who shared their memories with the author. As the author states ... "it is in their words that the image of God is revealed present in the heart of each one of them.

This is the fascinating story of Cameroonian and German refugees on the island of Fernando Po 1916 - 1919; perhaps the only group of Europeans to be refugees in Africa. The story begins in Cameroon in 1965 and travels back in time to Germany and colonial Kamerun, the arrival of Christian missions, and then into World War I, followed by the removal of the missionaries and life in internment. These pages contain stories of the explorers, soldiers and traders, missionaries and planters, and Africans part of the colonial expansion. This book contains many stories from Cameroonians who shared their memories with the author. As the author states ... "it is in their words that the image of God is revealed present in the heart of each one of them."

Reviews and endorsements

"Following the defeat of the German in Kamerun... a unique refugee situation occurred. German troops sought refuge in Rio Muni and Fernando Po. Probably the only large group of Europeans to ever become refugees on the African continent, the Germans were followed by their planters and businessmen and by some 60,000 African soldier and villagers. "                         

                                                                                                 ----- Ibrahim Sundiata


"... a well-researched, well written and much awaited valuable contribution to the historiography of Cameroon."     

                                                                                        ----- Prof. Vcisto Julius Ngoh

                                                   Author of The Untold Story of Cameroon Reunification

"I wish to commend Rev. Fr. Robert O'Neil for his very successful production of Born Under the Gun. It is a succinct but very illumnating analysis of Cameroon history during World War I. But first he provides a welcome background to the war by his story of the Imperial German Colony og the Kamerun since 1884. He then proceeds with his main themes : missionary activity and World War I in the Cameroons; the internment as refugees of German soldiers and their Cameroon cohorts on the off-shore island of Fernando Po, and the return of AFricans to the mainland in 1919 and 1920. The two appendices based on Fr. O'neil's interviews with Cameroonians have aslo enhanced the value of the book. Readers of Born Under the Gun will be well rewarded. "     

                            ----- Hollis R. Lynch, Professor Emeritus of History ( West African),

                         Former Director of the Institute of African STudies, Columbia University

René Pélissier Review:   Guinee Equatoriale,  “ Bisounours et Autres Puerilites” , Africana Studia, no. 30, 2018, Universidade do Porto.

AFRICA REGION NEWS | NEWS Mill Hill Missionaries Newsletter

Glowing Review of Fr Robert O’Neil MHM’s Book on Early Lay Missionaries in Cameroon

ByFons9 December 2020

Distinguished French historian, René Pellisier, wrote what is a very positive review of Fr Robert O’Neil mhm’s book Born under the Gun’ for a university journal in Portugal last year. It not only speaks well of the book on Fernando Po but also of the effort Fr O’Neil has made to write from the perspective of Africans over many years.

René Pélissier Review: Guinee Equatoriale, “ Bisounours et Autres Puérilités” Africana Studia no. 30, 2018, Universidade do Porto.


Robert J. O’Neil’s book, Born Under the Gun, is published by a company that appears to be dedicated to religious literature, which is not always a guarantee of excellence in general for the topics we are interested in in this column.

As a result, we were pleasantly surprised by its author, who is an American Catholic priest, and an ex-missionary in British Cameroon. In the United States, he addresses an audience interested in religious topics, but supposedly unaware of anything about African history. Faced with this reality, O’Neil uses a free ranging informative approach to provide his readers with a wealth of data: 1st: On the societies and congregations that evangelized before, during and after, the German colonization of Cameroon; 2nd: On this colonization from 1884 tol914; 3rd: On the conquest of the country by the Allies from 1914 to 1916, before defeat and the final exodus of German civilians, colonial troops and their most faithful African assistants. All this already represents 70 extremely detailed pages, before we discuss the main course, namely the internment of these tens of thousands of refugees by the (neutral) Spaniards of Rio Muni and Fernando Po or Poo. This justifies the appearance of the book in our presentation here.

Thanks to O’Neil we learn how the German soldiers organized on Fernando Poo their 5000-6000 askaris, their families and the thousands of Cameroonians who followed them, convinced as they were that Germany would recover its colonies.

Veritable German sores in a Spanish colony, these island camps are described as nurseries for unarmed soldiers being prepared for future revenge. And we finally understand why this somewhat obscure episode and of only secondary importance was of interest for a religious publisher: not only did the Germans keep their African soldiers under strict discipline, but a handful of German Catholic missionaries also found old flocks in their camps, (from areas where they had worked in Kamerun). They therefore created in their camps ready converts, some of whom would become catechists, who, upon their return to Cameroon in 1919, would dramatically increase conversions to Catholicism, much more massively than had been done by the earlier white missionaries, from 1884 to 1914.

Reading the text is sometimes difficult, but let us acknowledge that our author, who “mocks” postcolonial “fashionable” Africanism, has made a gigantic effort to find descendants of those African “expatriates” who explain to him the rise of German evangelization in an Iberian colony, all under the eye of the British. A new Christianity was born “under arms” and in a strange land! Not very ordinary, indeed.

Africana Studia no. 30, 2018, Universidade do Porto




Emmanuel Nuh Mbeh mhm, Mill Hill Newsletter,, 8th February 2019

A Forgotten Page of Colonial History:



A famous Cameroonian musician introduced one of his lyrics saying: les choses qui ce passent a Yaounde, a Douala; mais les phantomes sont temoignes.  The things happening in Bamenda and Buea, the ghosts are witnesses. 

It is clear that Fr O’Neil’s passion in these scripts was about the “ghosts” who are witnesses, the  poor souls/soldiers that were seemingly abandoned, sent home with no resources, no pension, no dignity except the million dollar faith of the sacraments and catechetical expertise.

This is another missionary outcry for the poor, for the missions in Cameroon, for (ex) soldiers, for the English speaking, for the Anawim Yahwehthe remnant that returned.


Born under the Gun echoes for me the sentiments of the South African legendary singer Lucky Dube, and the lyrics of Born to Suffer. Born Under the Gun underlines the history of the Cameroons and the suffering brought about by the First World War in the country. It also describes the Christian evangelization in and from the camps on the neighboring Island of Fernando Po, now known as Bioko under Equatorial Guinea whose capital is now Malabo.

Our hearts are moved with pity by those whose interviews figure in the Appendix. Our hearts are warmed by the faith, the passion and missionary impulse of the catechists, the ex-soldiers, the servants of the German soldiers who providentially learnt about the Gospel and when released and sent home, became teachers and transmitters of the faith in English speaking Cameroon.

The beauty of the candid writing of Fr O’Neil is that there is no temptation to lure or insinuate to be anachronistic.  We should never dig up the past to blame or scapegoat or throw stones or condescend to feel better and righteous about ourselves. 

This is an insightful and inspirational book.


Fr Emmanuel Nuh Mbeh mhm


David Hammer, March 5, 2020, New York City

The book is extremely well written. The prose is clear, the language simple yet precise, the tone serious and occasionally eloquent. What I especially admire is that the book is free from jargon, either religious or academic….The subject matter is extremely interesting. It not only deals with the history of the Church’s missionary work in Cameroon, but the interaction and often rivalry between Catholic and Protestant missions…It is interesting that sometimes Christian identity prevailed over imperial rivalries….Related to the impact of Christianity, was the impact after their repatriation of indigenous Africans who had lived with Europeans for several years on Fernando Po. To me, the story of these men after they were released from Fernando Po was one of the most interesting in the book. The first appendix (oral testimonies of Cameroonians)  is interesting but a little frustrating. Although the sources mention a lot of names, they provide almost no characterization of the people they name. The second appendix was to me much more significant. The stories, though short, are captivating and again, very well written…. I especially liked the description of Padre Carlos, leaning over the prow of a ship as it cut through the water and seeing “startled flying fish… leaping into short flight before falling back into the sea.” …I think this appendix may have been the most exciting and satisfying part of the book.   

Paperback / 224 pages
Dimensions: 6 x 9