Did you know – a group of stowaways introduced the Caribbeans to the war effort?
By the outbreak of war in 1914, a significant number of countries in the Caribbean (then the West Indies) were staunchly loyal to Britain. Groups of volunteers began to arrive from all parts of the Caribbean to join the British Armed Forces. Some came to Britain as stowaways to “Serve Kind and Country”. This became the start of the use of Caribbeans in the war effort.
There were also reformers in the Caribbean region who were attacking the Crown and saw the war as important for their movement for representative governance, to help them bring political and constitutional change.
Pro-participation arguments provided the basis for official representations to be made by the various governors to the British government. British officials were not keen on having people of African descent in the Caribbean serve on the Western Front – the War Office was tried to prevent any people from the West Indies enlisting, and actually threatened to repatriate any who arrived.
Eventually, the Colonial Office, the War Office, and King George V, formed a single West Indian contingent, and an army order was passed stating that the BWIR would be recognised as a corps for the purposes of the Army Act. The War Office also determined that Black colonial troops would not fight against Europeans, consequently most members of BWIR functioned in non-combat positions, as labour battalions.
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