2nd contingent British West IndiesWhen war broke out in 1914, the West Indies offered to send contingents of forces to England.

Men from the West Indies arrived in Sussex prepared to defend and die for our freedom and liberty, fighting side by side with British soldiers. Seaford was used as a training camp for men from the West Indies in preparation  for fighting in Europe. In total 16,000 soldiers were recruited, plus some 4,500 volunteers, who arrived in special contingents.

Photo: Inspection of the 2nd contingent British West Indies troops before departure, Kingston, Jamaica, January 1916.
Photograph courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

the_allbertComments from the South Coast Leader on Thursday December 7th 1995  recall that the winter of 1914/1915 was very severe.

These troops were confined to their rather poor accommodation and clothing, unable to do much training or get any exercise. Several developed pneumonia, and then an epidemic of mumps swept through their ranks.

Photo: Men of the British West Indies Regiment in a camp on the Albert – Amiens Road, September 1916.
Photographer: Lt. Ernest Brooks. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

West-Indian-soldierThe British West Indies Regiment played a significant role in the First World War especially in Palestine and Jordan where they were employed in combat roles against the Turkish Army.

During the Palestine CampaignGeneral Allenby sent the following telegram to the Governor of Jamaica: “I have great pleasure in informing you of the gallant conduct of the machine-gun section of the 1st British West Indies Regiment during two successful raids on the Turkish trenches. All ranks behaved with great gallantry under heavy rifle and shell fire and contributed in no small measure to the success of the operations.”

Photo: A soldier of the British West Indies Regiment rests during the digging of a new headquarters for XXth Corps on the cliffs of the Mediterranean near Deir el Belah, Palestine.
Photograph courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

seaford-campMutiny is one of the last untold stories of World War I, told by veterans themselves.

Thousands of West Indian men had to campaign for the right to fight on behalf of King and Country, but by the end of the war, they were leading an extraordinary mutiny at Taranto, Italy in protest at the way they were treated by the white officers.

After the mutiny, the British government feared the unrest that the veterans might cause on their return to the Caribbean colonies, so over 4,000 former soldiers found themselves displaced to Cuba where many would spend their final days.

Photo: Men of the British West Indies Regiment cleaning their rifles, Albert – Amiens Road, September 1916. Photographer: Lt. Ernest Brooks. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

seaford-gravesNineteen West Indians died at the camp in Seaford and are buried there in a military Cemetery.

In November 1994 for the first time a special service was held at the Cemetery, attended by World War II veterans from the West Indies Ex-service Men and Women’s Association from London.
They were possibly the first to visit their compatriots in 80 years.  In 2006 family members from the West Indies visited the graves of the soldiers in Seaford