CAPORAL Jean-Jacques M’Bondo died in the North-East 100 years ago this week, nearly 6,000 miles from his birthplace in what is now the Republic of Congo in Africa.

He was part of one of the region’s most extraordinary First World War stories – the creation of an enclosed Belgian community of 4,000 or more people making munitions to help free their homeland – and in death he is the only Congolese soldier to be buried in Britain.

He was born in 1884 in Ouaka in the Belgian Congo, a colony the Belgians brutally exploited for its rubber. Cpl M’Bondo – known as “Jack” – moved to Europe and in 1911 became a waiter and a cardboard-seller in Brussels.

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On January 1, 1914, he married a seamstress called Wladislawa, who presumably was also a migrant, from Poland.

On August 4, 1914, the Germans invaded Belgium, dragging Britain into the war. M’Bondo joined the 5th Volunteer Regiment almost immediately, and became one of only 32 Congolese soldiers to serve in the Belgian army – a few week later, because of the colour of their skin, men from the Congo were banned from signing up.

In late September 1914, Jack was hospitalised in Ghent for three days, having been injured. He was patched up, went back to the front, and on November 4 was so badly struck in the right groin that he was sent to hospital in London.

Britain was very sympathetic to Belgium, and the Albert, the king of the Belgians, established four hospitals in London to treat his injured countrymen.

Jack was so badly injured he could barely walk, but on January 2, 1918, he’d recovered sufficiently to be sent north to join the “Belgians of Birtley”.

A small town of Belgian refugees and wounded soldiers had been created in 1915 to build shells. Several thousand of them lived in primitive, harsh conditions behind fences in Elisabethville, which was named after the Belgian queen. During the war, they made two million shells for the British Army.

Jack only lasted three weeks. Perhaps the County Durham climate, which must have felt particularly alien to someone from the heart of Africa, was too much, and he died of pneumonia on January 28, 1918.

He is buried in the Roman Catholic churchyard at St Joseph’s in Birtley.

The Belgian government was unable to trace Jack’s widow after the war. The only other mention of her, Woladislawa M’Bondo, was that she died in a lunatic asylum in Mons in 1929.