The following newspaper report from the “Stratford Express” (London) 19 May 1915, page 3:
“THE DOCKS – Black Men for the Front At West Ham Police Court to-day (Wednesday).
“Nine Black men, natives of Barbados, West Indies, were charged with being stowaways on the S.S. Danube. Mr J.W. Richards, who prosecuted for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, said that the S.S. Danube made a voyage from Trinidad to England, and the day after leaving Trinidad the ship called at Barbadoes. It was presumed that the men came aboard there for the day. Afterwards they were found on the vessel. Mr Gillespie in court said “In a dark corner, I suppose?” & people in the court laughed. Mr Richards continued that the men were put to work, and they did not cause any trouble. He was told that the men were desirous of enlisting in the Army. Mr Gillespie in court said: “What, do they want to enlist in the Black Guards?” and there was laughter in court. Detective Sergeant Holby said he had made enquiries at the local recruiting office and they told him they could not enlist because of their colour, but if application was made to the War Office no doubt they could enlist in some regiment of Black men. The accused were remanded for a week.”
Caribbean countries also gave the “war effort” money – £2,000,000 (equivalent to £141,693,641 in 2015) and provisions – several thousand pounds of sugar, rum, oil, lime, cotton, rice, clothing, logwood; 9 aeroplanes, and 11 ambulances with enough funds for their maintenance, were all donated.
The generosity of the colonies was, however, not uncontested locally. In several colonies including Trinidad, Grenada, Jamaica and British Honduras, a number of Black people adopted the position that it was a White man’s war and therefore Black people should not get involved.
Over 20,000 people served in the British West Indies Regiment. Jamaica contributed two-thirds of these volunteers, while others came from Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Bermuda, the Bahamas, British Honduras (now Belize), Grenada, British Guiana (now Guyana), the Leeward Islands, Saint Lucia and St Vincent.
1st Battalion Formed at Seaford, Sussex, from West Indies volunteers: A Company from British Guyana, B from Trinidad, C from Trinidad & St. Vincent, D from Grenada & Barbados. Served in Egypt and Palestine. War diary September 1915 – April 1919 (WO95/4427, 4433, 4410, 4732)
2nd Battalion Served in Egypt and Palestine. War diary January 1916 – April 1919 (WO95/4427, 4433, 4732)
3rd Battalion Served in France & Flanders. War diary March 1916 – January 1919 (WO95/4465, 338)
4th Battalion Served in France & Flanders. War diary May – November 1918 (WO95/409)
5th Battalion A reserve draft-finding unit. War diary July 1916 – April 1919 (WO95/4465)
6th Battalion Served in France & Flanders. War diary March 1917 – April 1919 (WO95/495)
7th Battalion Served in France & Flanders. War diary June – December 1917 (WO95/409)
8th Battalion Served in France & Flanders and went to Italy in 1918. War diary July – December 1917 (WO95/338)
9th Battalion Served in France & Flanders and went to Italy in 1918. War diary July – December 1917 (WO95/338)
10th Battalion Served in France and Italy.
11th Battalion Served in France and Italy.
Bermuda raised two more contingents: the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps (which was attached to the 1st Lincolnshire Regiment) and the Bermuda Garrison Artillery. Other men joined other British and Canadian regiments
BWIR troops were engaged in numerous support roles on the Western Front – digging trenches, building roads and gun emplacements, acting as stretcher bearers, loading ships and trains, and working in ammunition dumps. This work was often carried out within range of German artillery and snipers; on one occasion 13 men from the BWIR were killed by shell fire and aerial bombardment.