All the King’s Men? Blacks in the British Army in the First World War, 1914–1918

TitleAll the King’s Men? Blacks in the British Army in the First World War, 1914–1918
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication1986
AuthorsKillingray, David
EditorLotz, Rainer E., and Ian Pegg
Book TitleUnder the Imperial Carpet: Essays in Black History 1780–1950
PublisherRabbit Press

By the  end of World War I a total of 15,204 black men, representing British Guiana and all the Caribbean colonies, had served in the British West Indies Regiment (BWIR), 13,940 had been rejected. Of the total accepted, 10,280 (66%) came from Jamaica. However, the black soldiers of the BWIR received lower pay and allowances than their white compatriots and they were mostly led by white officers and used as non-combatant soldiers in Egypt, Mesopotamia and parts of Europe. For example, in July 1916 the BWIR’s 3rd and 4th battalions were sent to France and Belgium to work as ammunition carriers. The fighting was to be done by the white soldiers. The BWIR spent much of their time at labouring work, such as loading ammunition, laying telephone wires and digging trenches, but they were not permitted to fight as a battalion. By the end of the war the BWIR had lost 185 soldiers (killed or died of wounds). A further 1,071 died of illness and 697 were wounded. In Seaford Cemetery there are more than 300 Commonwealth War Graves and nineteen of the headstones display the crest of the BWIR. This article explores the story of the black soldiers of the BWIR and other unites of the British Army during the First World War.

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