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In July 1916, 500 men of the BWIR were sent to fight in German East Africa. There they were engaged in guarding the railway line captured from German forces, manning communications posts, and finding and capturing German ammunition dumps. This was a difficult and little-remembered posting. The rainy season brought challenging conditions, and soldiers suffered from malaria, exposure and lack of supplies including clothing and food. Letters were rarely delivered due to the remote location.

 

A LIST OF ITEMS OF ITEMS A SOLDIER IN THE BWIR LOOKED FORWARD TO RECEIVING
Handkerchiefs, boot laces
Cocoa (prepared)
Spices (prepared)
Chocolate, peppermints and sweets

Dried fruits

Ginger (prepared)
Guava jelly and preserves
Hot sauces for salmagundi etc
Briar pipes and tobacco pouches
Tobacco (in thick tinfoil if possible)
Cigarettes, cigarette papers and cigarette tobacco
Automatic lighters (not containing oil, spirit or similar substances)
Safety matches (in sealed tins)
Antiseptic powder
Boracic ointment or borated vaseline for sore feet (in small tins)
Brompton cough lozenges
Jujubes
Notepaper, envelopes and pencils

 

1916 also saw the return of invalid fighters to the islands and most did not receive a pension; the few who did, experienced excessively long delays before assistance reached them. In Jamaica they were usually given a few shillings, a cheap suit of clothes and free railway transport to their home, but because of transportation problems some had to remain in Kingston for several days. This exhausted their money even before they actually left for home. The situation created major dissatisfaction because many had no other form of support. Having relinquished their jobs to fight for King and Country these soldiers were left to experience destitution and poverty.

 

In March of same year a third Jamaica contingent, comprising 25 officers and 1,115 other ranked personnel, departed for England on board the ship SS Verdala. Due to Germany’s warships and submarine activity in the region, the admiralty ordered the ship to make a diversion to Halifax, Canada, but before the ship could reach its destination it encountered a blizzard. The SS Verdala was not adequately heated, and the Jamaican soldiers had not been given warm clothing, temperatures in Halifax reached -9°C, inevitably, substantial casualties resulted and more than 600 men suffered from exposure and frostbite, 106 men required amputations, and there were five immediate deaths.

 

This incident had a negative effect on further recruiting from the islands, officials had to make house-to-house visits to generate interest. Additional volunteers came from Panama, particularly after America’s entry into the war in 1917.