West Indies and the First World War

West Indies and the First World War

West Indies is a general term for the islands in the Caribbean, many of which were British colonies. This included Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, British Guiana (Guyana), British Honduras (Belize), Grenada, the Bahamas, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Leeward Islands. During the First World War the West Indies contributed about 15,000 troops for active service overseas. about two-thirds of these were from Jamaica.


West Indies and the First World War - History

Prior to the First World War, West Indian soldiers had been serving with the West India Regiment &ndash an infantry unit in the regular British Army &ndash since 1795. Following the outbreak of war, many West Indians volunteered to serve. This willingness stemmed from loyalty to the British Empire. Some hoped that their support in the war would bring political reform at home in the West Indies. In 1915, the British West Indies Regiment (BWIR) was created and over 16,000 men from the West Indies served as part of this in the First World War. They were posted to many locations including the Western Front, Italy, Palestine, East Africa, Cameroon and Togo.

During the Second World War thousands of men and women from the Caribbean were recruited into the British war effort. Over five thousand served with the Royal Air Force on ground and aircrew duties. Thousands more were employed in the Merchant Navy and in civilian war work where volunteers helped ease the manpower situation. Women from the Caribbean also played their part in the tasks of defence: serving with the Auxiliary Territorial Service and the Women's Auxiliary Air Force.

Caribbean Participants in the First World War

Approximately 15,600 men of the British West Indies Regiment served with the Allied forces at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Jamaica contributed two-thirds of these volunteers, while others came from Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, the Bahamas, British Honduras, Grenada, British Guiana (now Guyana), the Leeward Islands, St Lucia and St Vincent. Nearly 5,000 more subsequently volunteered to join up. Over 1,200 of these soldiers were killed or died, while more than 2,500 were wounded. In total, 86 metals were won for gallantry on the battlefield and 49 men were mentioned in dispatches.

After the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914, West Indian men made numerous unsuccessful attempts to join the British Army. By April 1915 due to the heavy loss of men and after an intervention by King George V, West Indians were allowed to take part in the war and, by October that year the new British West Indies Regiment was formed. Regimental Head Quarters was at Up Park Camp, Jamaica. The Regiment served on all major battle fronts but was only used as Labour battalions in Europe because, Army rules at that time forbid black troops from fighting alongside whites in Europe while fighting a European enemy. Two battlions of the British West Indies Regiment fought alongside the Australian Light Horse in Palestine and Mesopotamia (Iraq), defeating the seventh Turkish Army.

Winston Churchill Millington


Winston Churchill Millington was born in Barbados in 1893. In 1897 he moved to Trinidad with his father, who was a teacher. In 1911 Millington started working at a secondary school in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad. He was one of the first to volunteer for B Company in Trinidad, which along with soldiers from Guyana, Trinidad, St Vincent, St Lucia, Barbados, Jamaica, the Bahamas and British Honduras would form the British West Indies Regiment. In December 1916 they sailed from England to Alexandria, in Egypt, on their way to fight in the Palestine Campaign.

The Palestine Campaign was far away from the main conflicts of the First World War in Europe. However, the battle here against the Turks was a vicious affair because, according to Winston Millington, "the Turks were ferocious fighters." It was not long before the machine-gun crews of the West Indian regiment were tested out. They were sent into action against a large body of Turkish soldiers and showed great coolness and self-discipline under fire.

The commanding officer of 162 Machine-gun Company praised the work of the West Indian gunners: "The men (in the machine-gun section) worked exceedingly well . showing keen interest in their work, cheerfulness, coolness under fire and the ability to carry it out under difficulties."

General Allenby also highlighted the machine-gun crews' outstanding achievements. He wrote to the Governors of Jamaica and the other British West Indian colonies:
"I have great pleasure in informing you of the excellent conduct of the machine-gun section of the BWIR during two successful raids on the Turkish trenches. All ranks behaved with great gallantry under heavy rifle fire, and contributed in no small measure to the success of the operation."

In these battles a number of soldiers distinguished themselves through their bravery. One of them was Winston Millington. When the Turks attacked, the rest of his gun crew were killed by enemy fire, but Winston continued to fire his gun for several minutes. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his gallantry and coolness in action.

George Blackman

Barbadian George Blackman, the last Caribbean soldier to have served in the British army on the western front during the First World War died in March 2003 at the age of 105.

Caribbean Participants in the Second World War

The British colonies in the West Indies were under direct threat by German submarines, who were hunting for oil tankers and bauxite carriers making their way from the Caribbean to the USA and the UK. On the islands, the available manpower was taken up guarding the ports and POW camps, as well as providing the labour for the increased production of primary produce necessitated by the war. Protests by West Indians at the lack of recruitment for service abroad, however, and the need for labour in Britain and for RAF personnel, resulted in the enlistment of men for RAF ground-duty training in 1941. West Indians were also recruited to fill certain skill shortages to aid the war effort.

Approximately 16,000 West Indians volunteered for service alongside the British during the Second World War. Around 6,000 West Indians served with the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force, in roles from fighter pilots to bomb aimers, air gunners to ground staff and administration. Of these, well over a 100 were women who were posted overseas - 80 chose the Women&rsquos Auxiliary Air Force (WWAF) for their contribution, while around 30 joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS).

Thousands of West Indian seamen made their contributions in one of the Second World War&rsquos most dangerous services, the Merchant Navy - one-third of all merchant seamen were to die during the war.

One thousand volunteers for army service were formed into the Caribbean Regiment, which went overseas in 1944 and saw service in the Middle East and Italy. In addition, West Indians served in the Royal Engineers as highly skilled technicians.

Upwards of 40,000 West Indians opted to join the various branches of the civilian war effort in the United States.
A total of 236 Caribbean volunteers were killed or reported missing during the Second World War 265 were wounded. Caribbean Air Force personnel received 103 decorations.

William Arthur Watkin Strachan

Pilots of the Madras Squadron. Group including Sgt. (later Flt. Lt.) Billy Strachan (extreme left). Billy&rsquos plane was named Vizagapatam after the town in India which paid for it.

William Arthur Watkin Strachan was born in Kingston, Jamaica on 16 April 1921. He left school in December 1939, four months after the Second World War began. His ambition was to get to England, join the RAF and learn to fly.
With £2.10 in his pocket and a suitcase containing one change of clothes Billy Strachan arrived in England on a wet Saturday in March 1940. After 12 weeks of basic military training, he trained to be a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and became a Sergeant. In 1941 he joined a squadron of Wellington bombers, which made nightly raids over heavily defended German industrial cities.

When Billy had survived 30 operations, he was entitled to a job on the ground. But when asked what he wanted to do, he replied at once: "Retrain as a pilot!" Billy learned so fast that he was allowed to fly solo after only seven hours&rsquo training. He loved playing tricks, joyriding and paying unauthorised visits to friends on airfields all over England. He had several narrow escapes.

"I suppose we had the over-confidence of youth. We never thought it would happen to us. As a crew, we did everything together. At the end of a raid we came back, had parties, checked up to see who were lost and heartlessly said things like: "Oh, I&rsquoll have his girlfriend, or his bike, if he isn&rsquot coming back."

At Cranwell Billy had his first batman, a man who had been batman to King George VI. Billy described him as a &lsquoreal smooth Jeeves type&rsquo:

In 1942, Billy Strachan became a bomber pilot. Pilot Officer Strachan was famous for his hair-raising but clever way of escaping German fighters. "The trick," he explained, "was to wait until the enemy was right on your tail and, at the last minute, cut the engine, sending your lumbering Lancaster into a plunging dive, letting the fighter overshoot harmlessly above."

Billy Strachan gained two more promotions to become Flying Officer and then Flight Lieutenant. But on his fifteenth trip as a bomber pilot his nerve snapped:

"I remember so clearly. I was carrying a 12,000 pound (6,000 kilogram) bomb destined for some German shipping. We were stationed in Lincolnshire and our flight path was over Lincoln Cathedral. It was a foggy night, with visibility about 100 yards (90 metres). I asked my engineer, who stood beside me, to make sure we were on course to get over the top of the cathedral tower. He replied: "We&rsquove just passed it." I looked out and suddenly realised that it was just beyond our wingtips, to the side. This was the last straw. It was sheer luck. I hadn&rsquot seen it at all - and I was the pilot! There and then my nerve went. I knew I simply couldn&rsquot go on - that this was the end of me as a pilot! I flew to a special &lsquohole&rsquo we had in the North Sea, which no allied shipping ever went near, and dropped my &lsquobig one&rsquo. Then I flew back to the airfield."

Ulric Cross

Nicknamed "The Black Hornet" by his squadron, Ulric Cross is thought to be the most decorated Caribbean airman of the Second World War.

Cross, who was born on May 1, 1917, worked for the Trinidad Guardian, before spending four years at a solicitor&rsquos office. He was employed by the Railways when he joined the RAF in the UK.

He once said: &ldquoThe world was drowning in fascism and America was not yet in the war. So I decided to do something about it and volunteered to fight in the RAF.&rdquo

Cross was known to be a fearless pilot and was involved in a number of high profile daytime attacks on France and Germany. On 18 August 1943, he took part in a raid against Berlin, which acted as a diversion to a full attack on Germany. His aircraft was damaged and he was forced to crash land on an airfield in Norfolk, where his plane stopped short of a quarry&rsquos edge.

After the war he moved into a number of high profile positions, including a post at the BBC in London. In 1958 he went to Africa to practice law and in 1967 he became High Court judge in Tanzania and chaired the Permanent Labour Tribunal. In 1971 he returned to Trinidad where he served as judge of the High Court and, from 1979, of the Court of Appeal.

His contribution to the Law Reform Commission of Trinidad was recognised by the country&rsquos Prime Minister, who said: &ldquoSome of his judgments changed the landscape of Trinidad and Tobago.&rdquo

Cross also served as a High Commissioner in London and took on ambassador roles to Germany and France.
Ulric Cross died on 4 October 2013, aged 96. He is survived by a son and two daughters.

Constance Goodridge Mark, BEM (Connie Mark)

Constance Goodridge Mark, nee McDonald, was another example of displayed loyalty typical of Caribbean women in WW2, wanting to serve Britain in its hour of need.

Connie Mark was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Her white grandfather had been a Macdonald from Scotland, her black grandmother a descendant of slaves. She joined up in 1943, and worked in hospitals as a member of the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service).

"Like England, Jamaica is an island. We depended on boats bringing things in. So if you are short of oil because the boat coming in was torpedoed, then the whole island has no oil. Many country parts of Jamaica in those days didn&rsquot have electricity. So you had a bottle, you filled it up with paraffin and you put the cork in. You turned the bottle over, the paraffin soaked the cork, you lit the cork, and that was your light for eating, for doing homework or anything. I can tell you, a lot of people got their eyebrows singed! Oh, yes!"

She joined the British Army in 1943, serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, The Womens royal Army Corps working She later became the Senior Medical Secretary in the Royal Army Medical corps, Where she served for 10 years, working in the North Caribbean.

Many years later she took part in the &ldquoTheir Past your Future&rdquo Campaign run by the Imperial War Museum.

Connie had felt that the contribution of &lsquoWest Indians&rsquo in WW2 was being ignored. She decided to do something to try to educate people about the contributions of Black people in the Second World War. Recounting a story about an Age Concern Meeting, she had taken some photographs of West Indian ex-servicewomen.


Researching service personnel

Researching people from the Caribbean is challenging. Most government records do not record place of birth, nationality or ethnicity. Even if the records do record this information the catalogues and indexes do not always record this useful information. Other problems arise because reading handwritten documents can be very difficult and so mistakes are made. The country is not always written on the record – for example soldiers’ attestation papers ask for village or parish and county and so someone from Jamaica could quite correctly write Manchester, Middlesex and someone from the Bahamas may write Nassau, New Providence and from the Bermuda may write Sandys, Somerset. So, in addition to searching by country you may also need to search by island or parish or town.

There are four main types of records to look at when researching men and women who served in the armed forces and merchant navy:

  • records of service and pension records (there are often separate collections for officers and other ranks) – these may be indexed by date and place of birth, and service number the record may indicate ethnicity or complexion eg dark complexion or “man of colour”
  • medal rolls and index cards – name, rank, service number and unit (regiment or ship)
  • operational records – unit (eg battalion or ship)
  • casualty returns – name, unit and date of death (and may be burial site). The Commonwealth War Graves Commission database is the best place to start and will say where the person is commemorated.

Luckily for the Caribbean regiments there are also some lists of men (not indexed) and correspondence relating to some individuals in Colonial Office correspondence. As well as plenty of correspondence relating to policy.

Most of these records are available at The National Archives (UK) and searchable on their catalogue Discovery. Many can be downloaded from The National Archives or partner sites especially Ancestry and Findmypast there will be a fee to download the images. Remember that the sources you’ll need to look at for Caribbean personnel are exactly the same as looking for people from Yorkshire or London.

I will describe some of the sources in later articles by for now the best place to start is by using The National Archives’ research guides.


West Indies and the First World War - History

On November 8, 1915, Brigadier General Blackden sent off the first Jamaican contingent under the command of Major W. D. Neish to serve in the First World War. "Some of you may be killed," he cautioned, "many will be wounded, but in bidding you farewell, I hope that those who fall may fall gloriously, their faces to the foe, victory gleaming on their bayonets." As the band played "Soldiers of the King," and prayers for their welfare and safe return home were said, 500 men sailed slowly off into the unknown looking for adventure, a chance to serve God and country. The world had been at war for over a year.

Most of the Jamaicans who served were between the ages of 19 and 25. Frank Cundall, in Jamaica's Part in the Great War, described these nine contingents and the over 10,000 Jamaicans, as being comprised of four types of men - (i) those who had already chosen the Navy or Army as their career, (ii) those who were in the West India Regiment, comprising Jamaicans under British officers, (iii) those who, on the outbreak of war, abandoned their occupations and went on their own, and (iv) the Contingent Men, like those first 500, who formed the British West Indies Regiment. Recruiting meetings were held in each parish, public calls to duty were listed in newspapers, and in 1917, following glowing commendations on the services of Jamaican units of the British West Indies Regiment's eleven battalions, a conscription law was eventually passed in the House. It was never put to use. Every man who went to the front from Jamaica was a volunteer. Many went out of patriotism, but just as many went out of a desire to simply "get out" and start a new chapter in their lives. At the time in Jamaica, unemployment was high and wages were low - men received 9 pence a day to cut cane.

Together soldiers from the West Indies represented sons of gentry and sons of labourers. There were lawyers, doctors, engineers, farmers, carpenters, clerks, blacksmiths, shoemakers, tailors, mason, printers, builders, coachmen and grooms. The troops were trained in English camps - their long spells of work broken by competitive games of cricket and football. They saw action in Africa, Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The 2nd Battalion of the West India Regiment (then established for over 100 years) gained yet further Battle Honours in Belgium, France, Italy, Egypt and Palestine.

The British West Indies Regiment (BWIR)

The British West Indies Regiment (BWIR) was known as a "coloured" regiment and as such was often the victim of racial discrimination. Eugent Clarke, a Clarendonian BWIR veteran, who in 1999 at the age of 105 received France's Legion d'Honour for meritorious service in WWI, remembered how when his ship had to put in at Halifax in Nova Scotia due to the dominance of German ships in certain waters, many members of the BWIR had their first contact with snow and frostbite. They remained clothed in tropical lightweight khaki uniforms, denied issue of the heavier weight uniforms of British soldiers (which were on board) until half of the battalion had already died. Clarke was one of 200 lucky survivors, and he was sent with others to Bermuda to convalesce before heading over to Europe. Once there conditions did not improve much. The men of the BWIR were generally restricted to carrying out hard labour, digging trenches, carrying supplies to men at the fronts. Some, mainly those stationed in the Middle East, were allowed to serve as combat troops. In the meantime all continued to suffer from severe weather conditions, frostbite, measles and mumps. One thousand of the over ten thousand that left Jamaica never returned.

History of the Jamaica Militia

Jamaica's participation in Europe's wars was nothing new. This time, however, Caribbean waters were not a main battleground. This historical connection began in the 1600s when the first militia regiments were formed after the island was captured by Cromwell's English troops in 1662. The "State of Jamaica under Sir Thomas Lynch," (1683) includes the following description of the militia:
"the militia in this island is better arm'd and much better disciplin'd than in England, and do much more duty, as waiting on the Governors, guarding the Forts, especially at Port Royal, where there are Ten Companies of about 200 each, one of which watched every Night. All the Militia is commanded by the Governor, as Captain General, according to his Majesties Powers and the Act of Militia. There's Eight Regiments in the Eight Provinces, and a Troop of Horse in every Province…. Every man between the ages of 15 and 60 had to enlist and remain enlisted in the foot or horse and provide his own horse and ammunition, each in the place of his abode."
Except for a small artillery element manning harbour fortifications, the militia was disbanded in 1906 under the belief that their services would not be needed since the world was at peace and "the populations of the West Indies could not possibly be of any consequence in any imaginable war of the near future." A reserve regiment took its place.

Sending troops to the Front

On August 5, 1914, England declared war on Germany not long after the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne. This time, however, submarines and tanks and dreadnoughts appeared on the world stage ushering in a new stage of warfare. There was never any doubt that Jamaica would show solidarity with the rest of the Empire. As the Governor, Sir William Manning, said at an August 13th meeting of the Legislative Council: "I feel that Jamaica will loyally and patriotically assume her part in maintaining the integrity of our Empire, and will comport herself gallantly to-day as she has done in the past." A decision to create a reserve regiment in every parish to guard against foreign invasion was immediately taken and well-received by the public. One Mr. William Wilson, unable to volunteer himself wrote to The Gleaner on April 23, 1915 - "if 99 other men will subscribe 30 pounds each I will give an equal amount and send 200 native-born Jamaicans to the front." Over 90 pounds were raised and a war contingent committee formed. The target was 500 men for the First Contingent. By the end of June, 748 volunteered and 442 were accepted. The government agreed to be responsible for the expenses of recruiting, training and transport separation allowances, as well as disabilities, gratuities and pensions.

Jamaican women did their part, too. They organized Flag Day fundraisers, a War Relief Fund and sewed woolen garments for soldiers. In addition to the women's funds, there were others including the Gleaner Fund and Palace Amusement Co.'s Palace War Fund. Thousands of pounds were collected. Over 4000 packages of fruits, 71 bags of sugar, 49 cases of ginger, four casks of rum, and two cases of playing cards were shipped to military hospitals, and distributed locally to men manning Jamaica's coastal forts.

On November 11, 1918 armistice was declared, signaling the end of four years of war. His Majesty's Government recalled with gratitude the share of men of Jamaica in the final victory in Palestine and "expressed to the people of Jamaica and her Dependencies (The Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos) the Mother Country's high appreciation of the military effort they have made, their cheerful acceptance of compulsory service to the common cause and their unfailing support in the great struggle…." According to Cundall, many soldiers returned to Jamaica with money, after having already sent home considerable amounts. All soldiers were also eligible to obtain loans to buy land, or if soldiers already owned land, to build houses, purchase stock and cultivate. Re-employment Committees were created in every parish with information on pay and pension, the treatment of invalids and the disabled, as well as arrangements to obtain work.

"Some of you may be killed, he cautioned, many will be wounded, but in bidding you farewell, I hope that those who fall may fall gloriously, their faces to the foe, victory gleaming on their bayonets. "

According to veteran Eugent Clarke who, along with thousands of other BWIR troops were held for close to a year at the end of the war by the British War Office at a camp in Taranto, Italy, when they returned home, times were just as hard as they had been before the war. It was still hard to get work and that work was still heavily agricultural based. Up to one-third of the veterans went to Cuba where prices for cutting cane were higher. This disillusionment came after the even greater one of Taranto, where Clarke and his fellow BWIR soldiers were virtually kept prisoner in large barracks which still stand, by their British Commanding Officer who, as a result of colour prejudice, not only assigned them hard labour but also demeaning labour such as cleaning toilets for white troops. He also refused to allow day passes and recreational time.

On December 6, 1918 tensions at Taranto reached a boiling point and the soldiers of the BWIR who did not understand why they had not been sent home and wanted nothing more than to go home, mutinied. They attacked their officers and severely assaulted their unit commanders, sending shock waves throughout the British Army. After four days the mutineers surrendered and the entire regiment suffered the humiliation of being disarmed. The mutineers were severely punished, one was shot, one executed by firing squad and another sentenced to time in prison. When the last of the BWIR troops were finally repatriated in September 1919, they were accompanied by three cruisers in order to prevent unrest once the ships docked at ports in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad. These BWIR soldiers were not given a heroes welcome because there was simply great fear on behalf of colonials that these soldiers, well-trained and now more politically aware, could create havoc for the status quo under which colonial life was governed.

Today, the Caribbean's World War I veterans are well remembered in the region, but not in Britain where a rewriting of history to include the coloured man's point of view is slowly taking place. In Jamaica memorials were eventually erected around the island for those 1000 men who lost their lives. These include a 20-foot monument in the yard of the Montego Bay Parish Church, a 20-foot one in Morant Bay, an obelisk in St. Ann's Bay, another in Kingston at Wolmer's School, and a chapel at Jamaica College. War memorials were also hung at Manning's School, Savanna-la-Mar, and Mico Training College, Kingston. Jamaica's National War Memorial, a 1.5 ton, 29-foot cross, made of Jamaica stone quarried at Knockalva with panels of marble from Serge Island, inscribed "To the men of Jamaica who fell in the Great War, 1914-18. Their name liveth forevermore" was erected in 1922 in what was then called Memorial Square, on Church St. in Kingston. At its November 11th unveiling onlookers crowded the streets, even filling the roofs of nearby government buildings. Near the monuments stood the relatives of those men who had fallen in the Great War.

In 1953 this cenotaph (a monument erected in honour of person(s) buried elsewhere) was moved to its present location in the National Heroes Park section of what is still officially called King George VI Memorial Park. It is guarded by soldiers from the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) and a ceremonial Changing of the Guard accompanied by the music of one of the JDF's military bands and one of The Jamaica Regiment's Corps of Drums takes place the first Sunday of each month at 9 a.m. Each day from 8 a.m. - 9 a.m. two sentries carry out their drills that are open to the public. On Remembrance Sunday each November, wreaths are laid on the memorial to commemorate the gallantry of those who served.

For information on the JDF see www.jdfmil.org

Sources: F. Cundall, Jamaica's Part in the Great War, 1915-1918. (London: IOJ, by the West India Commission, 1925), M. Needham for permission to use copyright material on the Jamaica Military Band and the Jamaica Regiment Band, M. Goodman and V. Rushton. "A Jamaica Past, being a Glimpse into History's Last Surviving Bloodiest battlefields - A Visit with Jamaica's Last Surviving World War I Veteran." Jamaican Historical Society Bulletin, vol 11, (3), 52-57. The BBC, Channel 4, 3-part documentary, "Mutiny" 1999.

Coming November 26: The series explores the grand hotels of Jamaica

"I have found your articles on the Pieces of the Past most entertaining and interesting to read. For me as a historian these pieces come at a time when Jamaicans need to reconnect themselves with their past and the Gleaner's efforts through this medium is quite commendable.

We're taking you for a stroll down memory lane for the next six months. Along this journey,we will relive several events which
significantly impacted on the social, political and economic development of Jamaica. As we travel share your experience with us.

Send your comments to:

Pieces of the Past,
The Gleaner Company Ltd.,
7 North Street, Kingston


Contents

Foundation Edit

Merchants in Copenhagen asked King Christian IV for permission to establish a West Indian trading company in 1622, but by the time an eight-year monopoly on trade with the West Indies, Virginia, Brazil, and Guinea was granted on 25 January 1625, the failure of the Danish East India and Iceland Companies and the beginning of Danish involvement in the Thirty Years' War dried up any interest in the idea. Prince Frederick organized a trading mission to Barbados in 1647 under Gabriel Gomez and the de Casseres brothers, but it and a 1651 expedition of two ships were unsuccessful. It was not until Erik Smit's private 1652 expedition aboard the Fortuna was successful that interest in the West Indies' trade grew into an interest in the creation of a new Danish colony. [3]

Smit's 1653 expedition and a separate expedition of five ships were quite successful, but Smit's third found his two vessels captured for a loss of 32,000 rigsdaler. In August two years later, a Danish flotilla was destroyed by a hurricane. Smit returned from his fourth expedition in 1663 and formally proposed the settlement of St. Thomas to the king in April 1665. After only three weeks' deliberation, the scheme was approved and Smit was named governor. Settlers departed aboard the Eendragt on 1 July, but the expedition was ill-starred: the ship hit two large storms and suffered from fire before reaching its destination, and then it was raided by English privateers prosecuting the Second Anglo-Dutch War, in which Denmark was allied with the Netherlands. Smit died of illness, and a second band of privateers stole the ship and used it to trade with neighboring islands. Following a hurricane and a renewed outbreak of disease, the colony collapsed, with the English departing for the nearby French colony on Saint Croix, the Danes fleeing to Saint Christopher, and the Dutch assisting their countrymen on Ter Tholen in stealing everything of value, particularly the remaining Danish guns and ammunition. [3]

Danish West India Company Edit

The Danes formed a Board of Trade in 1668 and secured a commercial treaty with Britain, providing for the unmolested settlement of uninhabited islands, in July 1670. The Danish West India Company was organized in December and formally chartered by King Christian V the next year on March 11, 1671. [4] Jørgen Iversen Dyppel, a successful trader on Saint Christopher, was made governor and the king provided convicts from his jails and two vessels for the establishment of the colony, the yacht Den forgyldte Krone [5] [6] and the frigate Færøe. [7] [8] Den forgyldte Krone was ordered to run ahead and wait but ended up returning to Denmark after the Færøe under Capt. Zacharias Hansen Bang was delayed for repairs in Bergen. The Færøe completed her mission alone, establishing a settlement on St. Thomas on May 25, 1672. From an original contingent of 190 – 12 officials, 116 company "employees" (indentured servants), and 62 felons and former prostitutes – only 104 remained, 9 having escaped and 77 having died in transit. Another 75 died within the first year, leaving only 29 to carry on the colony. [3]

In 1675, Iversen claimed St. John and placed two men there in 1684, Governor Esmit granted it to two English merchants from Barbados but their men were chased off the island by two British sloops sent by Governor Stapleton of the British Leeward Islands. Further instructions in 1688 to establish a settlement on St. John seem not to have been acted on until Governor Bredal made an official establishment on March 25, 1718. [3]

The islands quickly became a base for pirates attacking ships in the vicinity and also for the Brandenburg African Company. Governor Lorentz raised enormous taxes upon them and seized warehouses and cargoes of tobacco, sugar, and slaves in 1689 only to have his actions repudiated by the authorities in Copenhagen his hasty action to seize Crab Island prohibited the Brandenburgers from establishing their own Caribbean colony, however. Possession of the island was subsequently disputed with the Scottish in 1698 and fully lost to the Spanish in 1811.

St. Croix was purchased from the French West India Company in 1733. In 1754, the islands were sold to the Danish king, Frederick V of Denmark, becoming royal Danish colonies.

Later history (1801–1917) Edit

The first British invasion and occupation of the Danish West Indies occurred during the French Revolutionary Wars when at the end of March 1801 a British fleet arrived at St Thomas. The Danes accepted the Articles of Capitulation the British proposed and the British occupied the islands without a shot being fired. The British occupation lasted until April 1802, when the British returned the islands to Denmark.

The second British invasion of the Danish West Indies took place during the Napoleonic Wars in December 1807 when a British fleet captured St Thomas on 22 December and Saint Croix on 25 December. The Danes did not resist and the invasion was bloodless. This British occupation of the Danish West Indies lasted until 20 November 1815, when Britain returned the islands to Denmark.

By the 1850s the Danish West Indies had a total population of about 41,000 people. The government of the islands were under a governor-general, whose jurisdiction extended to the other Danish colonies of the group. However, because the islands formerly belonged to Great Britain, the inhabitants were English in customs and in language. The islands of that period consisted of: [9]

  • St. Thomas had a population of 12,800 people and had sugar and cotton as its chief exports. [citation needed] St. Thomas city was the capital of the island, then a free port, and the chief station of the steam-packets between Southampton, in England, and the West Indies.
  • St. John had a population of about 2,600 people. [10]
  • St. Croix, though inferior to St. Thomas in commerce, was of greater importance in extent and fertility, and, with 25,600 people, [citation needed] was the largest in population.

In 1916 a referendum was held in Denmark itself on the future of the islands, which had become both a financial burden and a strategic concern. On 17 January 1917, according to the Treaty of the Danish West Indies, the Danish government sold the islands to the United States for $25 million ($505 million in current prices), when the United States and Denmark exchanged their respective treaty ratifications. Danish administration ended on 31 March 1917, when the United States took formal possession of the territory and renamed it the United States Virgin Islands. [11]

The United States had been interested in the islands since at least the 1860s. The United States finally acted in 1917 because of the islands' strategic position near the approach to the Panama Canal and because of a fear that Germany might seize them to use as U-boat bases during World War I.

At the time of the US purchase of the Danish West Indies in 1917, the colony did not include Water Island, which had been sold by Denmark to the East Asiatic Company, a private shipping company, in 1905. The company eventually sold the island to the United States in 1944, during the German occupation of Denmark. [12]

St Thomas was a hub of the West Indies packet trade from 1851 to 1885. Denmark issued stamps for the Danish West Indies from 1856 onward.


The war known in Europe as that of the Palatinate, League of Augsburg, or Grand Alliance, and in America as King William’s War, ended indecisively, after eight years, with the Treaty of Rijswijk in 1697. No territorial changes occurred in America, and because the great Mughal emperor Aurangzeb reigned in India, very little of the conflict penetrated there.

Queen Anne’s War, the American phase of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14), began in 1702. Childless king Charles II of Spain, dying in 1700, willed his entire possessions to Philip, grandson of Louis XIV of France. England, the United Provinces, and Austria intervened, fearing a virtual union between powerful Louis and Spain detrimental to the balance of power, and Queen Anne’s War lasted until terminated by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. England (Great Britain after 1707) gained Gibraltar and Minorca and, in North America, acquired Newfoundland and French Acadia (renamed Nova Scotia). It also received clear title to the northern area being exploited by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Bourbon prince Philip was recognized as king of Spain, but the British secured the important asiento, or right to supply Spanish America with slaves, for 30 years.


West Indies and the First World War - History

From 1866 to August, 1914, Jamaica had continued to live in profound peace and security. During that time the roads of the island were extended and improved. The Railway was greatly extended also a large number of schools and hospitals were established and very many of the people acquired land as their own property. Progress was slow but sure. No danger from the outside seemed to threaten the colony. Then suddenly, the Great War broke out on August I, 1914. It involved Jamaica, as it involved every other country in the world, directly or indirectly. Its influence on this island was felt all the time it lasted and the influence of changes it brought about were felt by generations to come.

Jamaica took part in the War, sending to the front about ten thousand men. While the fighting continued she suffered from lack of ships to take her products to other countries. This was a disturbance of trade that always takes place in time of war and affects all countries. In course of time Jamaica was able to resume her regular trade in sugar, rum, tobacco, coffee and cocoa, which were admitted into the English market on better terms than the same things produced in foreign countries. In other respects also the War brought about many changes in Jamaica, as it did the world over. So with its outbreak began the fifth period of our history.

In 1914 on August 1, Germany plunged Europe into war by declaring war on Russia and next day invading France through Belgium. As England was a party to a treaty with France and (any to defend Belgium against invasions, England declared war on Germany. It was to be a long and bitter war lasting four years till 1918. It became known as the Great War and was afterwards called the First World War, because most nations in the World became involved.

When the war started, Martial Law was immediately proclaimed in Jamaica and a body of troops called the Jamaica Reserve Regiment was formed for the defence of the island. Further, on August 14, a fund was launched which raised £20,000 by year-end to provide comforts for British soldiers.

On September 17, the Legislative Council voted £50.000 to purchase sugar for donation to England.

In 1915 , by voluntary effort, Jamaica began to arrange to send soldiers to fight in the Great War and a contingent of 500 men was sent off on November 8. The Legislative Council took over the effort.

On August 12 and 13 a hurricane hit the island a second occurred on September 25 and 26. Both wrought much damage to property and agriculture, especially to bananas.

In 1916 , on January 7, the second contingent of volunteers was sent off to was with a third following on March 16.

On March 29, the Legislative Council voted £60,000 a year for 40 years as Jamaica's contribution to the expenses of the war. Intensive recruitment was started in all parishes. The fourth contingent sailed on September 30. Other West Indian islands followed Jamaica's lead in sending men to fight, so the British War Office resolved to regard all West Indians as one unit to be known as The British West Indies Regiment.

On August 15 and 16, a hurricane swept Jamaica.

In 1917 , March 6, the Legislative Council introduced compulsory military service, with every male from 16 to 41 being obliged to register. This was to ensure sufficient soldiers being available, but the Conscription Law was never put into effect since all the recruits needed came forward voluntarily. A number of women volunteers also went to England, mainly to join the nursing services. Five contingents justify Jamaica in 1917 bringing the total to nine contingents in all, comprising about 10,000 men.

In May, some women property-owners were given the right to vote.

In September, still another hurricane hit the island damaging property, banana plantations and crops. Thus for three successive years the island had not escaped the ravages of hurricanes .

In 1918 May 11, Sir William Manning justify Jamaica to go to Ceylon as Governor. In June, Sir Leslie Probyn, who had been Governor of Barbados, arrived here as Governor.

On November 1, an Armistice was signed between Germany and her allies Austria, Turkey and Bulgaria and the Allies, chief nations of which were England, France, U.S.A., Italy and Japan. The war being now practically over, the Jamaican soldiers began to be sent home. The first lot of them to return landed in Kingston on May 2, and received a hearty welcome. Many of the men sent away had died or had been wounded, but most of them had escaped injury. In Palestine, especially, the West Indian soldiers, most of whom were Jamaicans, had distinguished themselves in fighting the Turks.

In 1923 the parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew were amalgamated. The union came into effect on May 1.

In 1924 Sir Samuel Wilson arrived (September 29), as Governor in succession to Sir Leslie Probyn. He remained only nine months, leaving the colony in June, 1925. He subsequently became Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies.

In 1925 , January, a delegation, consisting of several Members of the British Parliament paid a visit to Jamaica this was a very important event, for the visitors were influential men and by seeing for themselves were able to carry back to England a better knowledge of Jamaican affairs both political and economic.

On March 16, the branch railway from Chapelton to Frankfield was opened. The line is ten miles long. The Hon. A. S. Jelfe, Colonial Secretary, arrived in October and administered the Government until a successor to Sir Samuel Wilson was appointed.

In 1926 , April, Sir Reginald Edward Stubbs arrived as Governor. In May there was held, in a room in the House of Lords, a West Indian Conference. It was attended by representatives of the West Indian colonies and its object was to provide a place where representatives of the different Governments could meet and discuss their problems. During this year the West India Regiment was disbanded. The Regiment had had a long and distinguished career. It first formed in America as the North Carolina Regiment in the year 1779. It was later re-organized and named the West India Regiment. It took part in the capture of St. Lucia, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Dominica, during the wars with Napoleon. During the latter part of last century it was frequently engaged in operations on the West Coast of Africa, notably Ashantee (1873), West Africa (1887, 1892-1894), and Sierra Leone (1898), and in the Great War (1914-1918) the Regiment saw service in Palestine, the Cameroons and East Africa. The final parade of the Regiment was held at Up Park Camp on the 26th October, 1926. Later on, in February,

In 1927 , the Colours were taken to England in charge of several officers. The King received the Colours at Buckingham Palace on the 18th February. In receiving them, His Majesty said: "I am proud to take charge of the Colours to be preserved and held in remembrance of a great Regiment." The Band of the Regiment, which always had a great musical reputation, was kept in existence as a memory. The bandsmen still wear the historic Zouave uniform.

On May 4, the Hermitage Dam, on the Wag Water River, was opened. It was built to provide a reserve water supply for the Corporate Area of Kingston and St. Andrew. The dam is 142 feet high, 465 feet wide, and is capable of storing 430,000,000 gallons of water. It took two and a half years to build.

In August, an organization called the Jamaica Producers' Association was formed. The object was to get all the banana growers of the island or as many of them as possible to form themselves into a large Company to sell their fruit together. By so doing they hoped to obtain the best prices when the fruit was sold in the markets abroad. A direct line of steamers was to be run as part of the scheme. The Government supported the idea and helped the Association to start operating. The fruit industry was also further assisted by a line of steamers to Canada. The object was to encourage Canadian and West Indian businessmen to do more business together.

In 1930 in February, a delegation headed by Lord Olivier visited Jamaica to enquire into the state of the sugar industry. Visits were also paid to other West Indian colonies for the same reason. The industry had been receiving support from the British Government in the form of a reduced tax. It was being said that the support should be taken away. The delegation was sent out to find out the exact state of affairs in the different colonies.

In 1932 the Cayman Islands were severely hit by a disastrous hurricane, which swept over them on the night of Tuesday, November 8. Many buildings were demolished in Grand Cayman, but there was no loss of life. The island of Cayman Brac was completely devastated Dwelling houses and stores were wrecked by wind and sea. Hundreds of the inhabitants were injured, many of the seriously, and 67 lost their lives. In Little Cayman similar damage was done to buildings and many of the inhabitants were injured, but no lives were lost.

On November 9, Sir Edward Stubbs sailed from Jamaica, having completed his term of office, to assume the Governor-ship of Cyprus. His administration was a very successful one. His Excellency lent great encouragement to the idea of local enterprise, and important economic developments took place during his administration.

He was succeeded by Sir Ransford Slater, K.C.M.G., C.B.E., who arrived in Jamaica as Governor on November 21.

In 1933 between the night of the 14th of August and the morning of the 15th, a disastrous flood of record intensity occurred in Kingston and Lower St. Andrew, taking 53 lives and destroying over £300,000 of Government, Municipal and private property. The flood followed very heavy rains which had been falling for several weeks and the swollen gully courses overflowed their banks, taking away houses and drowning the people sleeping in them. Nearly five inches of rain fell in one hour, and the rainfall for the day was 11.60 inches. A severe water shortage was caused by the gullies bursting the water mains. Relief measures were carried out and a fund, opened by the Governor, provided nearly £5,000 for the sufferers.

In 1934 , October 24, Sir Edward Denham arrived as Governor, in succession to Sir Ransford Slater, who justify Jamaica in April, retiring from the Governorship on the grounds of ill-health. In 1935, May 6, King George V celebrated the Silver Jubilee of his reign.

In 1936 King George V died, on January 20, after a short illness, The Prince of Wales ascended the throne as King Edward Vlll: he abdicated on December 10. On the abdication of Edward Vlll, his brother, the Duke of York, was called to the throne as George Vl. He was crowned, with Queen Elizabeth, at Westminster Abbey on May 12, 1937.

On April 3, a radio-telephone service was inaugurated by which persons in Jamaica were able to speak over the telephone with others in the United States, England, Canada, Mexico and Cuba. The Jamaica Progressive League first advocated self-government for Jamaica.

In 1938 discontent over wages and unemployment throughout the island led to the appointment by the Government of a Commission to enquire into the position, but before the Commission could conclude its work, serious labour disturbances broke out at Frome, Westmoreland, followed by grave disorders in Kingston, St. Mary, St. James and other parts of the island. One of the leaders of the movement, Alexander Bustamante, was arrested but afterwards freed, and then was formed what was the first recognized Labour Union in Jamaica.

These disturbances, which occurred during the same period as troubles in the other West Indian islands, led the Imperial Government to send out the West India Royal Commission, the Moyne Commission, which took evidence here and in other colonial possessions in the Caribbean. Sir Edward Denham, Governor, died in the Kingston Public Hospital on June 2 and was buried at sea on the following day.

He was succeeded by Sir Arthur Richards, who arrived in Jamaica on August 19. The People's National Party was formed under the leadership of Norman W. Manley.

In 1939 an important improvement to internal communications was made with the inauguration of the All-island Trunk Telephone Service to connect all the principal towns of the island. The first connection was opened to the public on April 1.

In September, the Second World War broke out in Europe, in which Britain became involved. Germany attacked and invaded Poland. Great Britain had a treaty with Poland, and with the Dominions and Colonies, declared war on Germany. Jamaica, like other parts of the Empire, was immediately placed under the Defence of the Realm Act, under which the Governor made regulations controlling prices of all commodities to prevent profiteering, controlling foreign exchange, and imposing censorship of the press, mails and of telegraph and cable messages.

In 1940 Great Britain and the United States entered into an arrangements by which the United States was granted air, military and naval bases in British territory. Among the places selected for these bases was Jamaica, one at Portland Bight, and another at Vernamfield in Clarendon. A corps of American engineers arrived in the island shortly after the arrangement between the two countries was completed, and immediately set to work on plans for the building of the bases.

In 1942 , March 9, the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission was formed. Its object was to co-ordinate effort in planning agricultural and other research in the Caribbean. The Commission consisted of six members, three appointed by the British Government and three the United States of America. Later it was broadened to take in the French and Dutch West Indies. Members from those governments were appointed and it became the Caribbean Commission. In June, Marcus Mosiah Garvey died in London.

In 1943 , July 8, in the Ward Theatre, the Jamaica Labour Party was founded, under the leadership of Alexander Bustamante. In August, agricultural labourers (sometimes called farm workers) were recruited for temporary employment in the USA to meet war needs. So successful was the venture that recruitment was repeated year by year, and the plan extended to other West Indian Islands. In September, Sir John Huggins arrived as Governor in succession to Sir Arthur Richards, who went to Nigeria to assume the Governorship there.

In 1944 , August 20, a disastrous hurricane swept over Jamaica, almost completely destroying the coconut industry. Many homes, as well as schools and other public buildings, were badly damaged and some completely demolished.

On November 20, a new Constitution was proclaimed, under which the island obtained representative, though not responsible government. In place of the single Legislative Council, presided over by the Governor, there was created one wholly-elected body, the House of Representatives, chosen under universal suffrage and presided over by its own Speaker and a Legislative Council, partly ex-officio and partly nominated by the Governor. There also came into existence an Executive Council of ten Members, five chosen by the House of Representatives and five by the Governor.

November 20 was declared a public holiday, and is known as Constitution Day intill after Independence in 1962 when it was replaced by national Heroes Day, on the third Monday of October.

In the general elections that followed, the Jamaica Labour Party, led by Mr. Bustamante, obtained a large majority over the People's National Party.

In 1945 the second World War came to an end. The Germans collapsed in Europe in May, and the Japanese yielded in August to intensive bombing, which included the first use of the atomic bomb, on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

In 1947 a conference took place at Montego Bay to consider uniting the British West Indies under a single Federal Government. The subject had been discussed informally from time to time, but this was the first occasion on which representatives of all the British Caribbean peoples met to give the matter official consideration. Representatives were sent by the Governments of all the territories, namely: Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, the Windward Islands, the Leeward Islands British Guiana and British Honduras, and the conference was presided over by the Right Hon. Arthur Creech Jones, Secretary of State for the Colonies. A Standing Committee to study the problem was appointed it made a report, three years later, which was the basis for further debate in all the territories as to the desirability of federation.

In 1948 The University College of the West Indies was founded at Mona, St. Andrew. It received support from the Governments of all the British Caribbean territories. In August the Jamaica Public Service Co. Ltd., abolished its tramway system in favour of buses for all public transport. In 1949 new general elections were held. The Jamaica Labour Party again won, but by a greatly reduced majority in the House of Representatives.

In 1950 on July 9, commercial broadcasting was started by the Jamaica Broadcasting Co. in Kingston. The name would later be changed to Radio Jamaica Ltd. (RJR).

In 1951 Sir Hugh Mackintosh Foot became Governor in succession to Sir John Huggins.

On August 17, the most severe hurricane in seventy years, Hurricane Charlie, swept over the island. It did great damage in Kings Port Royal was destroyed for the third time in its history. Morant Bay was hard hit. The loss of life was in excess of 150.

In 1952 on February 6, King George Vl died. His Majesty had been ill for some time and had undergone a serious operation. He was gradually convalescing from this illness when he died, and Princess Elizabeth ascended the throne as Queen Elizabeth II.

The manufacture of cement in Jamaica was started at Rockfort, 4 miles from Kingston, on the road to St. Thomas by the Caribbean Cement Company, in February of this year.

In May, Government set up the Agricultural Development Corporation (often referred to as the A.D.C.) to promote further development of agriculture throughout the island. Early emphasis was on rice-growing.

In June, Government set up the Industrial Development Corporation (now called the J.l.D.C.) to aid expansion in industry and to help to attract overseas capital in setting up industries in the island.

In the Olympics held in Helsinki, Finland, Jamaica's team of Arthur Wint, Leslie Laing Herbert McKenley and Gsorge Rhoden won the 4 x 400 relay in world record time, as did Rhoden in winning the gold medal in the 400 metres. McKenley won silver medals in the 100 and 400 metres and Wint the siver in the 800 metres.

In 1953 a broadening of the Constitution was put into effect. The number of Ministries was increased to nine, giving the popular side of the Government a Cabinet for the first time, with Ministers responsible for their portfolios and with the elected leader becoming Chief Minister. Mr. Alexander Bustamante was the first Chief Minister.

In November, Queen Elizabeth II stopped off for two days on her way to Australia, this being the first time that Jamaica had been visited by a reigning English monarch. Great crowds cheered Her Majesty at many points. She was accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

In 1954 success attended an Industrial Fair held in Kingston by the Jamaica Manufacturers Association. In November, President William V. Tubman of Liberia paid a State visit. In July there was a serious outbreak of poliomyelitis. It was brought under control by December, by which time 759 cases had been reported out of which there were 94 deaths.

In 1955 island-wide celebrations marked the 300th Anniversary of the coming of Penn and Venables in 1655, and thus the tercentenary of association with Britain. The year opened politically with general elections in January. The People's National Party gained a majority, and on February 2 Norman W. Manley took office as Chief Minister. Later, in February, an official good-will visit to Jamaica was paid by General Paul Magloire, President of Haiti. Less than a week afterwards, HRH Princess Margaret spent five days during the course of her official tour through the British Caribbean. She opened the new hospital at Morant Bay which was named for her. Then followed Senor Luis Munoz Marin, Governor of Puerto Rico, who opened the Agricultural Fair at Denbigh.

The second Industrial Fair in Kingston was opened in September by the Hon. Adlai Stevenson, former candidate for the Presidency of the United States.

Tercentenary activities which went on for the full year included a "bandwagon" show which made a circuit of the parishes with artistic and athletic events of all kinds.

In 1956 a conference held in London of representatives of the Caribbean island territories, settled major points concerning Federation, exclusive of the name of the new nation-to-be and the site of its capital. A Commission of three Englishmen was pointed to tour the region and propose three locations from which the capital would be chosen.

Migration to England, which for some years since the Second World War had been rising from almost a trickle, gathered momentum and over 17,000 Jamaicans went to England to seek work in this year.

In 1957 early in the year, a final Federation Conference took place at Mona, St. Andrew. The name West Indies was adopted for the Federation. The Commission on the capital recommended Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad in the order named. By vote of the regional delegates, Trinidad was selected. Elaborate naval, military and civic displays attended the unveiling of historical markers at Port Royal, the most important being a plaque in honour of naval heroes who had commanded there. His Excellency the Governor presided.

In January a new system of land valuation for tax purposes was introduced, based on unimproved value instead of an improved value as before. It was planned to introduce this system gradually, each parish being done in turn.

On March 1 there was a heavy earthquake which shook almost the entire island, causing substantial damage to buildings. During this year Government policy on education was revised and expanded, whereby 1,500 free places in secondary schools and 50 scholarships and bursars to the University College of the West Indies was made an annual affair.

In June the Mona Reservoir in St. Andrew, building of which had started in the early 1940s, was put into service. It has a capacity of 825,000,000 gallons.

In 1957 on November l1, Jamaica received full internal self-government which meant a complete change of the political structure that had existed for almost three centuries. This change gave control of all internal matters to a Council of Ministers, called the Executive Council, nominated by the Governor on the recommendation of the Chief Minister, who now became known as Premier. This Parliamentary system was modeled on that of the United Kingdom. There were now ten Ministers instead of the nine under the 1953 Constitution.

Sir Kenneth Blackburne, formerly Governor of the Leeward Islands arrived on December 18 to take over as Governor from Sir Hugh Foot, who had justify the island on November 18 to go to Cyprus as Governor. During this year bauxite and aluminum exports almost doubled those of 1956. Financial arrangements between Government and the bauxite companies were revised, whereby Government received greatly increased revenues from the mining companies. Migrants to England in this year numbered 13,087.

In 1958 Jamaica became a member territory of the West Indies Federation when it was proclaimed on the 23rd of February. During this year the Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Board was established to improve and control the conditions of workers on sugar estates and cane farms, and of their dependents.

In December, Government set up the Jamaica National Trust Commission with power to take steps for the purchase and preservation of National Monuments.

On December 31 the Jamaica Regiment disbanded, most of its members being absorbed the next day by the West India Regiment. Migrants to the United Kingdom in this year amounted to 9,992.

In 1959 on March 17, the Hon. Noel Nethersole, Minister of Finance, died suddenly of a heart attack while preparing the Government Budget.

In Federal Elections held in April, the Bustamante-led Democratic Labour Party won 12 seats in Jamaica to 5 won be the Federal Labour Party, led by Norman Manley.

On June 14, the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation, which is run by a Government Statutory Board, started operations, thus bringing a second broadcasting station to the island.

On July 4, important changes in the Constitution of Jamaica were proclaimed. The Council of Ministers established in the 1957 Constitution was now replaced by a Cabinet with a Premier. The number of electoral constituencies for electing Members of the House of Representatives was increased from 32 to 45.

The new Montego Bay International Air Terminal was officially opened to traffic on July 9, while in August the new 7,600 ft. runway at the Palisadoes Airport, near Kingston, was opened to traffic, even though the new terminal building was still under construction.

On July 28 there was a general election, as a result of which the People's National Party was returned to power, having won 29 seats in the House against the Jamaica Labour Party's 16 seats. Mr. Norman Manley, Q.C., became Premier and assumed the portfolio of Minister of Development.

Work began in this year on the important Negril development project in the west of the island.

Migrants to the U.K. in this year amounted to 12,796.

In 1960 the Governor, Sir Kenneth Blackburne, went on overseas leave and Mr. Geoffrey Gunter was appointed to act in his place. This was the first occasion on which a Jamaican had been appointed in this way to represent the Crown since the surrender of the old Constitution in 1866. Mr. Gunter was later knighted.

On October 26, the Legislature was transferred from Headquarters House, where it had been located for 88 years, to a new building next door on Duke Street. This new House was named Gordon House in honour of the great Jamaican patriot, George William Gordon, who had been a member of the House of Assembly under the old Constitution and a victim of the aftermath of the 1865 rebellion.

During this year, considerable expansion of the manufacturing industry took place. New industries appeared, and important amalgamations of businesses and remodeling of factories took place or were completed.

In November the Government awarded 75 bursars to the University of the West Indies.

Migrants to the UK. reached the figure of 32,060.

In 1961 in May the Government opened a national bank, the Bank of Jamaica, thus marking a new and important phase in the development of the island's financial institutions.

On September 19, a Referendum was held for the people of Jamaica to vote as to whether or not they wished the island to remain in the West Indies Federation. 256,261 people voted "No" and 217,319 people voted "Yes". As a result, Jamaica decided to withdraw from the Federation, which was later dissolved. Jamaica then asked Britain for independence.

A conference was held in London between Jamaican leaders and the British Government which resulted in the granting of independence with Dominion status of Jamaica on the basis of an agreed Constitution. The agreed date for Independence was set for August 6, 1962.

Migration to the United Kingdom in this year exceeded 39,000.

In 1962 , April 10, a general election was held. The Jamaica Labour Party won 26 seats, while the People's National Party won the remaining 19 seats. The Government therefore passed from the PNP to the JLP and Sir Alexander Bustamante became Prime Minister.

On May 31, the West Indies Federation was dissolved. Jamaica, after her decision of late September 1961, to secede, had remained a member until its dissolution.

On June 22, the last British Regiment in Jamaica, The Royal Hampshire Regiment, justify the island, thus bringing to a close an era which had begun in 1655, since when British troops had always been quartered in Jamaica.


In 1948, Britain was just starting to recover from the devastation of the Second World War but faced desperate labour and housing shortages. Enticed by the prospect of long-term job opportunities and prosperity, Caribbean men and women crossed the Atlantic in response to adverts for work in an attempt to tackle Britain’s labour shortage crisis.

HMT Empire Windrush

In May 1948, HMT Empire Windrush was en route from Australia to England, via the Atlantic and docked in Kingston, Jamaica, to pick up servicemen who were on leave. Whilst the Windrush was crossing the Atlantic the 1948 British Nationality Act, which would grant all Commonwealth citizens free entry into Britain, was being debated by the British government. Even before the act – which would reaffirm their pre-existing rights of travel and residence – had been passed, Commonwealth migrants began to arrive in Britain with the first of these travelling on board the Empire Windrush.

When the Windrush docked in Kingston, the ship was far from full and so an opportunistic advertisement was placed in a Jamaican newspaper offering cheap transport on the ship for anyone who wanted to work in the UK. During the war, thousands of Caribbean men and women had been recruited to serve Britain and many of these decided to make the trip in order to rejoin the armed forces or with hopes of finding better employment. Those from Jamaica were also leaving a country which had a struggling economy and had been recently devastated by a hurricane. Other more adventurous spirits, mostly young men who had heard about the voyage, simply fancied coming to see what the ‘mother country’ was like and doubled the numbers. The journey to Britain cost £28 for travel on the troopdeck (around £1,000 today) and £48 for cabin class travel.

Before arriving in Kingston, the ship had visited Trinidad and, following departure from Jamaica, it also docked at Tampico in Mexico, Havana in Cuba and Bermuda where others joined the vessel. However, most of the Windrush’s passengers boarded in Jamaica.

The ship itself made its final voyage in 1954. She continued to be used as a troopship until March 1954, when the vessel caught fire and sank in the Mediterranean with the loss of four crew.

Arrival in Britain

The ship docked at the Port of Tilbury on 21 June 1948 and discharged its passengers the next day. At the time, news reports in the media reported that the number of West Indian immigrants on board was 492, however the ship’s records, which are held at the UK National Archives, show that Windrush was carrying 1,027 passengers (including two stowaways) and amongst those travelling from the Caribbean for work there were also Polish nationals displaced by World War II, members of the RAF and people from Britain, Mexico, Gibraltar and Burma. According to the ship’s passenger lists 802 of the official listed passengers on board gave their last country of residence as somewhere in the Caribbean – over half of these (539) were Jamaican residents.

As most eyewitness accounts testify, the majority of people on board the ship were men. There were 684 males over the age of 12, compared to 257 females over the age of 12. 86 of the passengers were children aged 12 and under.

Unsurprisingly, the most popular destination recorded by the passengers was London – 296 people named the city as their planned place of residence and a number of others planned to go to Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Plymouth and Bristol. Those that had not already arranged accommodation were temporarily housed in the Clapham South deep shelter, which had been built under the London Underground station as an air-raid shelter during the Second World War.

The nearest employment exchange to Clapham happened to the Coldharbour Lane Labour Exchange in Brixton, less than a mile away. Many of the arrivals sought work here, working for state-run services like the newly-formed National Health Service and London Transport. They then moved into rented houses and rooms in the Brixton and Clapham areas where large Caribbean communities developed. In Brixton, the town’s Windush Square commemorates the ship’s arrival.

Many of Windrush’s passengers originally only intended to stay for a few years and although a number did return, the majority remained to settle permanently and now form a vital part of British society.

Arrival of HMT Empire Windrush (0:44 secs)

The ‘Windrush generation’

The arrival of Empire Windrush in Britain in June 1948 was a landmark event that marked the beginning of post-war mass migration and one that would change Britain’s social landscape forever – the image of West Indians filing off the ship’s gangplank is often used to symbolise the beginning of modern British multicultural society.

By January 1949 the 1948 British Nationality Act had come into effect, giving ci tizenship of the UK and Colonies (CUKC) to all people living in the United Kingdom and its colonies, and the right of entry and settlement in the UK. This, coupled with the introduction of a tough new US immigration law which restricted entry into the USA in 1952, encouraged West Indian immigrants to travel to the UK en masse as they could settle in the UK indefinitely without restrictions. By 1956, more than 40,000 immigrants from the West Indies had moved to Britain.

New immigration rules were introduced in the intervening years, before the Immigration Act 1971 changed the law to grant only temporary residence to most people arriving from Commonwealth countries. This came into force in 1973 and ended the influx from the Caribbean. However, people born in Commonwealth countries (and their wives and children) who settled in the UK before 1973 were still allowed to remain in the UK indefinitely under the terms of the new Act. They retain that right today but, after the 1971 Act, a British passport-holder born overseas could only settle in the UK if they had a work permit and could prove that a parent or grandparent had been born in the UK.

Those who were born in the Caribbean and who settled in the UK between 1948 and 1971 are generally referred to as the ‘Windrush generation’, after HMT Empire Windrush which transported the first migrants. It is unclear how many people belong to the Windrush generation, since many of those who arrived as children travelled on their parents’ passports and never applied for travel documents, but they are thought to be in their thousands. According to estimates by Oxford University’s Migration Observatory over 500,000 are now resident in the UK who were born in a Commonwealth country (including Windrush arrivals) and arrived before 1971.

The Windrush Scandal

Recently it came to light that some of the Windrush generation of Commonwealth citizens were being denied access to state healthcare, had been made redundant from their employment and, in some cases, threatened with deportation, despite being legally resident in the UK for decades and often making paying taxes and making pension contributions. The scandal also prompted a wider debate about British immigration policy and Home Office practice, including treatment of other migrants, and of asylum seekers and what the status of EU nationals living in Britain would be after Brexit.

Under more recent immigration laws there had been a requirement for people to provide four pieces of evidence for each year that a person has been in the country. Since the 1971 Immigration Act people of the Windrush generation have been forced to prove continuous residence in the UK since 1973, when they were granted the right to stay in the country permanently (if anyone left the country for more than two years they lost their right to remain). However, proving continuous residence has proved to be an almost impossible task for those who have not kept up-to-date records, or did not have paperwork originally.

In 1962 citizens of the Commonwealth became subject to immigration controls but those who arrived as minors were not included – children could come in on their parents’s passports – and many of those now facing difficulties arrived as children with their parents. In the 1970s the Home Office did not keep records of the people to whom it granted indefinite leave to remain and w hile many have taken UK citizenship or have documents to prove their status, some do not – some Windrush generation citizens stayed but did not apply for British citizenship, meaning there is no official record of their legal status.

Then, in 2012, then Home Secretary Theresa May promised a ‘hostile environment’ for illegal immigrants to stop migrants having access to the NHS, welfare services, employment, bank accounts, driving licences and rented accommodation, unless they could prove their right to be in the UK. These requirements were made even more stringent in 2016 and, consequently, h undreds of those from the Windrush generation found they had not got paperwork to prove they had lawfully been in the UK for years.

To gain official recognition people were told to apply for an official ‘No Time Limit’ (NTL) stamp, at a cost of £229. The Home Office did not use central tax and pension records to support NTL applications and instead the onus was put on the individual to provide evidence and documentation. It further came to light that in 2010 the UK Border Agency destroyed thousands of landing cards, which for some of the Windrush generation would have been the only proof of exactly when they arrived in Britain, as part of their legal obligations under the Data Protection Act.

From 2013 onwards the Home Office received repeated warnings that many Windrush generation legal residents were wrongly being identified as illegal immigrants. In April 2018 Home Secretary Amber Rudd apologised for the “appalling” treatment of the Windrush generation and announced a taskforce to resolve the immigration status of those affected, granting them the citizenship papers to which they are entitled, waiving application fees and awarding compensation. By the end of April Rudd had resigned as Home Secretary amid great pressure over the Windrush scandal. She said she had “inadvertently misled” MPs over targets for removing illegal immigrants and was replaced by Sajid Javid.

By August 2018 a compensation plan had still not been implemented and in February 2019 the Home Office admitted that, although it had set up a hardship scheme in December 2018 for victims of the scandal, only one of the applicants to the scheme had thus far received any assistance. Even by April 2020, the Windrush taskforce, which was set up to deal with applications from people who were wrongly categorised as illegal immigrants, still had 3,720 outstanding cases.

On 19 March 2020, the Home Office released the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, an independent inquiry managed and conducted by Wendy Williams, which concluded that the Home Office showed an inexcusable "ignorance and thoughtlessness", and that what had happened had been "foreseeable and avoidable". It further found that immigration regulations were tightened "with complete disregard for the Windrush generation". The study recommended a full review of the "hostile environment" immigration policy .


'There were no parades for us'

More than four million men and women from Britain's colonies volunteered for service during the first and second world wars. Thousands died, thousands went missing in action, and many more were wounded or spent years as PoWs. But until now their sacrifice has been largely ignored by the mother country they fought to protect. As the Queen opens memorial gates in their honour today, Simon Rogers talks to five unsung heroes.

The first world war veteran

George Blackman, age 105
4th Battalion, British West Indies Regiment, 1914-1919

George Blackman leaps up, brandishing his walking stick. "Like this," he breathes, imitating the thrust of a bayonet. "Like that," he says, mimicking the butt of the rifle. "I still got the action. I'm old now, but I still got the action."

George is 105. When he was born in Barbados in 1897, Queen Victoria was on the throne and two-thirds of the world was coloured pink.

He points to a scar above his left eyebrow. "That is a bayonet cut on the eye." He touches his hands. "This is from the blow of the rifle butt."

George is almost certainly the last man alive of the force of 15,000 who rushed from the beauty of the Caribbean to the mud and gore of Flanders and the Somme to defend king and country during the first world war. His old comrades are all gone now - the last, Jamaican soldier Eugent Clarke, died earlier this year at 108. When Blackman goes, that will be it.

Sitting in his niece's house in northern Barbados, Blackman is now partially blind and almost deaf. Anita tidies his shirt collar for him as we speak. He is still articulate and energetic, and his fiercest remarks are reserved for England. "I need help but the English government don't help me with nothing," he says. "It's she, she who give me this," he says, gesturing to Anita.

This bitterness has been growing deeper over the years. There was a time when he would have done anything for the mother country. In 1914, in a flush of youth and patriotism, he told the recruiting officer he was 18 - he was actually 17 - and joined the British West Indies Regiment. "Lord Kitchener said with the black race, he could whip the world. We sang songs, 'Run Kaiser William, run for your life, boy'." He closes his eyes as he sings, and then keeps them closed for the rest of our interview.

"We wanted to go. Because the island government told us that the king said all Englishmen must go to join the war. The country called all of us."

Enthusiasm for the battle was widespread across the Caribbean. While some declared it a white man's war, leaders and thinkers such as the Jamaican Marcus Garvey said that young men from the islands should fight with the British in order to prove their loyalty and to be treated as equals. The islands donated £60m in today's money to the war effort - cash they could ill afford.

While Kitchener's private attitude was that black soldiers should never be allowed at the front alongside white soldiers, the enormous losses - and the interference of King George V - made it inevitable. Although Indian soldiers had been briefly in the trenches in 1914 and 1915, Caribbean troops did not arrive until 1915.

The journey to Europe was perilous - hundreds of soldiers from Jamaica succumbed to severe frostbite when their troopship was diverted via Halifax in Canada. Their winter uniforms were left locked up while they froze in thin summer clothes.

When they arrived, they often found that fighting was to be done by white soldiers only - black soldiers were assigned the dirty and dangerous jobs of loading ammunition, laying telephone wires and digging trenches. Conditions were appalling. Blackman rolls up his sleeve to show me his armpit. "It was cold. And everywhere there were white lice. We had to shave the hair there because the lice grow there. All our socks were full of white lice."

A poem written by an anonymous trooper, entitled The Black Soldier's Lament, showed how bitter the disappointment was:

Stripped to the waist and sweated chest

Midday's reprieve brings much-needed rest

From trenches deep toward the sky.

Non-fighting troops and yet we die.

Yet there is evidence that some Caribbean soldiers were involved in actual combat in France. Photographs from the time show black soldiers armed with British Lee Enfield rifles, while there are reports of West Indies Regiment soldiers fighting off counter-attacks - one account tells how a group fought off a German assault armed only with knives they had brought from home. Blackman - who was born to a white mother from London and a Barbadian black father - still remembers trench fights he fought in, alongside white soldiers. "They called us darkies," he says, recalling the casual racism of the time. "But when the battle starts, it didn't make a difference. We were all the same. When you're there, you don't care about anything. Every man there is under the rifle."

He remembers one attack with particular clarity. "The Tommies said, 'Darkie, let them have it.' I made the order: 'Bayonets, fix,' and then 'B company, fire.' You know what it is to go and fight somebody hand to hand? You need plenty nerves. They come at you with the bayonet. He pushes at me, I push at he. You push that bayonet in there and hit with the butt of the gun - if he is dead he is dead, if he live he live."

The West Indies Regiment experienced racism from the Germans as well as the British. "The Tommies, they brought up some German prisoners and these prisoners were spitting on their hands and wiping on their faces, to say we were painted black," says Blackman.

He didn't make friends. "Don't have no friend. A soldier don't got friends. Know why? You believe that you are dead now. Your friend is this: the gun. That is your friend."

At the end of the war, after years of hard fighting, not only against the Germans but also the Turks, men of the West Indies Regiment were transferred to a British army base in Taranto, Italy, where one of the bitterest events of the war would occur - a mutiny. Days were tough there and comprised largely of manual labour such as loading ammunition, or even cleaning clothes and latrines for British soldiers. Blackman, who was not there long, remembers it being hard. "From Marseille, it was seven days to reach Taranto. It is a seaport - all the boats were coming from London with ammunition. We have to unload the boat, the train come and we got to load the train to take the ammunition up the line."

For some of the black troops there, a pay rise for the white soldiers - but not them - was the final indignity. Riots ensued and senior British officers were assaulted. Eventually the mutiny was put down, with one soldier executed and several others given lengthy jail sentences. But the black soldiers were left with a new-found feeling of rebellion.

The immediate result was that the West Indies troops were kept away from the victory parades that marked the end of the war, and hurried home under armed guard. "When the war finish, there was nothing," says Blackman. "I had to come and look for work. The only thing that we had is the clothes and the uniform that we got on. The pants, the jacket and the shirt and the boots. You can't come home naked.

"When we got home, if you got a mother or father you have something, but if you're alone, you got to look for work. When I come I had nobody. I had to look for work. I had to eat and buy clothes. Who going to give me clothes? I didn't have a father or nobody. Now I said, 'The English are no good.' I went to Jamaica and I meet up some soldiers and I asked them, 'Here boy, what the government give you?' They said, 'The government give us nothing.' I said, 'We just the same.'"

And that's when Blackman disappeared off the veterans' radar. Travelling around South America, he worked as a mechanic in Colombia, before retiring to Venezuela to live with his daughter until the Barbados government helped to bring him home earlier this year.

As a Barbadian living in Venezuela for decades, he was not entitled to a pension there. The Barbados government (in the form of one dedicated civil servant) is still processing his application for one in his home country. And from the British? Nothing.

The empire changed when Blackman and his comrades returned from France. The soldiers who emerged were so politicised that island governments encouraged them to emigrate to Cuba, Colombia and Venezuela. Those who returned to their countries altered everything. Gunner Norman Manley, who had seen his brother blown apart in front of him during the war, eventually took Jamaica to independence, becoming its first prime minister in 1962.

A secret colonial memo from 1919, uncovered by researchers for a Channel 4 programme on the Taranto mutiny, showed that the British government realised that everything had changed, too: "Nothing we can do will alter the fact that the black man has begun to think and feel himself as good as the white." In a sense, history was rewritten. That meant no celebrations, no official acknowledgment.

For George Blackman, the situation has become even more simple. "England don't have anything to do with me now. England turned me over." He opens his eyes - they are almost blue. "Barbadians rule Barbados now."

Mahinder Singh Pujji, age 84
Squadron leader, Royal Air Force

Mahinder Singh Pujji is one of the 2.5 million Indians who left their homes during the second world war to fight for a country they regarded as the motherland. Many ended up giving their lives for Britain, but the sacrifice they made barely registered in either Britain or India.

Pujji is 84 and lives in a neat flat in sheltered accommodation in Gravesend, Kent. Ramrod-straight, he greets us in RAF tie. He is a product of empire - his father was a senior officer in the colonial administration. Born in Simla at the end of the first war, he remembers growing up in the Raj as a "wonderful time".

"It's very difficult for you to understand," he says. "Today, we say India or England, but then it was just one."

After college in Lahore, he learned to fly, and when war broke out saw an advertisement: "Pilots needed for Royal Air Force." "I could have joined the Indian Air Force any time I wanted to - but I was quite comfortable in a civil job which was well paid and for a British company. But this was an opportunity for me to go abroad and see the world."

He was among 24 Indians accepted immediately for training and to develop "the manners that are required of a commissioned officer". It was August 1940 - the height of the Battle of Britain. "We were all experienced pilots. Among us were very famous Indian pilots. They were the pioneers who had flown solo flights from India to London and created records.

"I was very happy. My salary doubled and in one month's time I was on the boat to London. As officers, we were entitled to first class. I had a cabin of my own and I thought, 'This is worth taking any risk.'" He was just 22.

Even in training, Pujji insisted that he be allowed to fly with his turban, unlike many other Sikh flyers - and he is probably the only fighter pilot to have done so. "I thought I was a very religious man, I shouldn't take off my turban. The British people were so nice and accommodating. They respected that. I had a special strap made to hold my earphones. I used to carry a spare turban with me so I would have one if I got shot down."

In wartime Britain, Pujji became used to being a curiosity. "On one occasion, I was driving through to Bath and a traffic policeman in the centre of the traffic saw me in my car and he just froze in amazement."

But everyone was kind to the RAF officer. "Everybody was lovely and wonderful. In the evenings we would have VIP treatment. They wouldn't let us pay for tickets in the cinema and in restaurants we got sugar [which was rationed]. People saluted me and called me sir."

During the Blitz, bombers attacked London every night. "I was impressed with the courage of the English people - there was no panic. I used to watch movies - the screen would go blank for the air-raid warning. People were told, 'If you would like to go to the shelters, please make your way out now,' and nobody would get up. I was really amazed at how brave these people were."

Pujji trained to fly Hurricanes, less glamorous than a Spitfire but loved by their pilots for their manoeuverability and heavy-calibre weapons. "Inside a fighter plane it's very cramped - there's not much room for movement. There's a big panel in front of you. There's an oxygen mask - you are not used to it. It irritated me and I would often fly with it off."

Of the 24 pilots who came over from India, eight were considered suitable for fighters, including Pujji. The odds against survival were high. "Among these fighters, six were killed in the first year I was here."

He was posted to 258 squadron, near Croydon, south London. "Once, 12 of us went escorting bombers over occupied France. I was enjoying the flight. Then suddenly I saw beautiful fireworks around us - it didn't dawn on me for a couple of seconds that they were firing at us from down below. In ignorance I was enjoying it.

"The squadron split up. Very soon I was alone. I looked in the mirror and saw German fighters. The Messerschmitts were very fast, but the Hurricane could turn a tight circle. Either they hit us straight away or just missed us. It was thrilling - maybe I am an exception, but I was not scared."

The increasing casualty rates hit his squadron hard - two or three pilots would disappear every day. And every day, the group captain would come in and ask for volunteers for the day's operation. "I could see how brave these young pilots were. Everybody would raise their hand. They knew they would not all come back. Every evening, there would be two or three less people at dinner. But by breakfast, they would be replaced, and so it went on."

Pujji almost became a casualty himself several times. On one occasion his badly shot-up Hurricane nearly crashed into the English Channel, and Pujji was advised to ditch in the sea by the "nice English girls" in the control room. "But I couldn't swim, you see. I carried on until I saw the white cliffs of Dover and I thought, 'I'll make it.' The aircraft was a total wreck - I was dragged out and I heard voices saying, 'He's still alive, he's still alive.' Because my eyes were closed I couldn't see. The padding of my turban saved me - it was full of blood. I was taken to the hospital but after seven days I was back to flying again."

After hundreds of missions, he was posted to the north African desert, and then to India, fighting rebels on the Afghan border. Posted to Burma, he ended up in one of the fiercest conflicts of the war. Flying in a reconnaissance squadron, Pujji's task was to search for and attack Japanese troops. "I saw a small column. I would be flying very low and they would hide. I would go up so they would come out again and dive back and open all my guns," he says. "It happened very often. I felt elated. Now I feel very bad when I think about it. I was very cruel. I am responsible for killing many Japanese."

By this time, it was 1944 and he was effectively commanding a squadron which became known as the "eyes of the 14th army". On one occasion he located a lost troop of 300 US soldiers, saving their lives. He became one of the few Asian pilots to be awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross.

Soon after the war he married, only to discover he had TB. "I was told I had six months to live. I said I had one request - send me back to my home. I want to be with my family." Back in India, he recovered - despite what the doctors had told him. From then on, his life reads like a Boy's Own adventure tale: he flew racing planes across India he won gliding championships and flew with Nehru, India's first prime minister.

Eventually, he stopped wearing his turban, partly because it got in the way, partly because he felt different about religion. "My father said, 'You have lost your religion,' but for me, I wanted to cut off my hair."

When his career finished in 1974, he finally retired to Kent. "When I retired, I had to settle down somewhere and I had such a wonderful impression of England from the 1940s, I thought, 'I'll come here.' I was allowed to enter the UK as the government's 'honoured guest' in 1974 - which I found out was very rare."

He has lived here ever since, even after his wife's death. But his enthusiasm for Britain is not quite what it was.

"Now, the man in the street thinks every Indian is illiterate. Once I was driving in town and I had to pick my wife up - it was a double yellow line. And this young policeman started shouting at me, as if I was stupid. Then I saw him across the road with a white driver being very polite. I didn't want to tell him I was an officer - he would have saluted me during the war.

"This is not the England I knew - but maybe if my story is told, then people will remember us and what we have done."

Allan Wilmot, age 77
Royal Navy, Royal Air Force

It was 1941 when Allan Wilmot enlisted in the Royal Navy - he was forced to lie about his age to get in. "I was 16 and they wanted men - so when men are wanted, they turn a blind eye. We Jamaicans were pro-British. We felt British. When war broke out, it was a case of the mother country's in trouble and needs your help. And help was given, without a second thought."

The Caribbean was a hazardous place for the vital shipping which plied its way to England with supplies and motor oil via the Panama canal. Wilmot found himself on a mine-sweeper on convoy escort duty, picking up survivors as cargo vessels were torpedoed in front of them. One of a dozen Jamaicans on board, he says racial distinctions quickly blurred. "On a small ship you become a family. You depend on each other - you're all brothers. There's no room for discrimination - in three minutes you could be at the bottom of the sea. Being the youngest one, I was more or less a mascot."

In 1943, he enlisted with the RAF for motor boat duty, which involved picking up ditched airmen and laying flight paths for flying boats. He soon found himself in England. At first, the welcome was complete. "When we landed at Liverpool, an air vice-marshal came to meet us. He said, 'Thank you very much chaps, for coming to help us.' That didn't last. After the war it was, 'Thank you very much. Goodbye.' The English were very, very curious about us. In Jamaica, we knew everything about the British empire. But over here, they knew absolutely nothing. Once your face is black, you must come from Africa. We said, 'We are from Jamaica,' and they would say, 'What part of Africa is that?'At first we thought they were taking the mickey when they asked us, 'Where did you learn to speak English?' or 'Did you live in trees?' They didn't have a clue."

After the war, Wilmot was turned down for the merchant navy and headed back to Jamaica. "There were no victory parades, no preparations made. The British government thought it was up to the Jamaicans, the Jamaicans thought it was up to the British."

After a brief period as a customs officer, he returned to England in an old troopship with other ex-servicemen. He became one of the first six black postmen in Britain. "When we were out on collections, the crowd used to gather, just to see us."

Now he is the vice-president of the West Indian ex-servicemen and servicewomen's association. He still feels there is a need for the stories of servicemen like him to be told. "What we need is official recognition," he says. "The memorial gates are a start."

The engineer

Chanan Dhillon, age 79
Colonel, Indian Engineers

Chanan Dhillon grew up in a small village in the Ludhiana region of India in the 1930s. "Our lives were very strenuous, our school was about four-and-a-half miles away with no roads and before we got to the school, we had to water the cattle and buffalos. At that time boys went to school to be a revenue official. I didn't know I was going to be a soldier."

As it turned out, Dhillon proved to be a talented athlete and was spotted by British officers. Sitting in his daughter's house, not far from Heathrow, the 79-year-old colonel says: "I came up to this rank [thanks to] British officers who liked me because of my talent as a hockey player. I will always remember one Captain Radcliffe-Smith. In one of our hockey tournaments, we had a hailstorm and we got drenched. I was not carrying a coat or anything - we were village boys - he came and put his coat over me. Within six months he recommended me for an officer commission."

At the outbreak of war, Indian regiments were immediately mobilised. Dhillon's sappers were sent on a grand tour of the British empire - they first marched through what is now Iraq, before going through Iran to North Africa.

"We heard that there was a big battle at Tobruk. We reached Al Dhaba airfield and then Marsamatru, the last line of defence."

Tobruk was a disaster for the British, with Rommel's army advancing rapidly through the desert. "By the time we reached there, our column had already started retreating. We had to defend the line - we had a ring around us. Our armoured force couldn't hold there.

"We started retreating at midnight - we could see the German convoys. We went into the desert so that we could cut through the ring surrounding us. We were under attack all night and trying to fight our way through. They had motorcyclists armed and were driving at us. By daybreak, one of our vehicles was hit - all the soldiers died."

His soldiers were forced to surrender and were taken on a troopship towards Italy. But then, a torpedo struck the boat 40 miles from the Sicilian coast. "Our ship went down within 20 minutes," he says. "There was panic - people didn't know what to do. The Italian guards had lifejackets, we had none. When the captain ordered them to get off the ship, we fought hand-to-hand for those life jackets."

Surrounded by the drowning and the wreckage of the boat, Dhillon was pulled from the sea by German sailors. "When a ship drowns, the sea becomes very furious. I always thought I would die, but I was still striving to live."

He was taken to an Italian prisoner of war camp. The relaxed atmosphere of British, Australian and Indian prisoners was conducive to one thought: escape. "We could socialise in the evening - and we would plan what to do. We wanted to escape and we were engineers. The British were very enterprising. They started a tunnel." Digging the tunnel gradually, night by night, they broke through.

"One day, 40 prisoners escaped and I was one of them. It was bad luck - with our turbans, we couldn't be mistaken for Italians. I was arrested again and put in a cell for 14 days. It was a very harsh punishment."

That could have been the end of Dhillon's war. But it was 1942, and the Italians were about to capitulate. Dhillon and his fellow Indian prisoners were taken to a camp in Germany, Limburg, near Frankfurt. Dhillon was put in charge of the now-segregated camp's Indian soldiers, organising activities and welfare for the prisoners. He says the German authorities respected the Geneva convention, even if the soldiers didn't. "One of my NCOs was told to unload munitions. He refused to do it because I had told him only to do work not related to war effort. A German threw a grenade at them, killing them all.

"I demanded to see the site straight away. Five prisoners had died. They were all Indian. The guards were arrested - and court martialled."

Repatriated to India on the brink of independence, he married before fighting again - this time in the contested region of Kashmir. Now, after 37 years in the army, he has plunged himself into ex-services welfare of 500,000 veterans as chairman of the Indian ex-services league in Punjab.

He feels now that many of his comrades were ignored on their return from Europe and the desert by both the UK government and the hastily-arranged new Indian government. Many of the British veterans ended up living in poverty. "I came to VE day here [in Britain] in 1995 and there was no mention of the Indian forces. I wrote to John Major to complain.

"A country or a nation should be grateful to a soldier - a soldier should be treated as a special human being."

The intelligence officer

Weerawarnasuriya Patadendige Jinadasa Silva, age 91
Major, Ceylon Light Infantry

'I had a boarding school education, read the Boy's Own paper, and I read Shakespeare," declares "WPJ" Silva. "Of course we felt English. Particularly going to boarding school. We knew more about English history than our country's history. It's not the best thing, but that's how we were."

Born into a well-off family in what was then Ceylon, Silva fell into the army by accident. "It was through another member of the club I went to," he says. Prewar Ceylon had only a part-time army Silva joined as a territorial in 1936, although he remained determined to pursue a civilised career in the civil service. "We had to be ready. We had training after office hours in barracks. Once a year we had a camp in the hill station where all the others from the whole country came. It was very hard working but very jolly." Witty, urbane and intelligent, it's easy now to imagine the 91-year-old veteran in the role of British officer - the "W" in his initials was assumed by the English officers to stand for William, so he became universally known as "Willie".

It wasn't until the fall of Singapore in 1942 that Ceylon was truly under threat. Silva still recalls the sight of wounded British soldiers straggling into Colombo. "They got there whatever way they could. They lost their arms and uniforms. They lost their clothing - everything. It was sad to see them in that shape. For some weeks, they were walking about dazed, poor chaps. How they escaped I don't know."

Suddenly in the front line, and a harbour for British battleships, attack by the Japanese was inevitable. Willie Silva was put in charge of the defence of Trincomalee harbour, one of the largest natural harbours in the world. "It was the Clapham Junction of the east," says Silva. "Ships had come through the Suez canal or South Africa. Most of them had to go to Colombo for refuelling, for loading and unloading. Ceylon was a centrepoint, and the defence of it was very important. I remember seeing the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary both berthed side by side there - a very rare sight. The harbour was so enormous, they didn't look big at all."

When the air assault finally came, it was nearly catastrophic. British ships were sunk and Silva's troops, protecting the camouflaged guns on the hillside, had to hide in slit trenches under orders not to reveal their positions. "I lived purely by accident, purely by that chance," he says. "There were tons of planes over the harbour and we could even see the Jap faces with their goggles. Two of my men were injured during that raid - they were too fat to get to the slit trenches. They caught a splinter and shrapnel, but instead of feeling sorry for them, you couldn't help laughing."

But clever intelligence had done its trick - the Japanese believed the harbour was much better protected than it was and never again attempted a full-frontal assault.

Progressing through the ranks from sergeant to lieutenant, he eventually became a military intelligence officer, preparing briefings for the army's senior commanders in the area. It was a reluctant Willie that took up this role, because he didn't want to work directly under the British. "My feeling as a proud Sri Lankan was very British but we also have our own tradition. We have a written history of 2,500 years, unbroken. When you were a Roman colony, we were an important country," he says. "But then I went, and I loved it - I never looked back from then. I was the only Sri Lankan out of 70 officers. Was I treated as an equal? Absolutely - I liked them, they liked me and we got on very well."

After the war, Ceylon finally achieved independence, becoming Sri Lanka in 1948. Silva progressed through a role as recruiting officer, to aide-de-camp to the island's governor general. In the late 1950s, he became the Sri Lankan senate's equivalent of Black Rod. By any standards, he was an important man on the island. But he didn't stay.

Working for the UN world veterans' federation, Silva met and married an English woman, an interpreter, and moved to Britain where he worked as a civil servant. The circles they moved in were civilised and polite. Asked if they have ever experienced any discrimination as a mixed-race couple in the 1960s, both hotly deny it, something Silva emphasises has been a feature of their life together. Now a Member of the British Empire, he says he feels at home in south-east London. "My street is very quiet, very nice," he says. "I like it here. I even married an Englishwoman. It's quite natural for me to live here, feeling English, and not feel a foreigner at all."

· To contact the British Commonwealth ex-services league, write to: 48 Pall Mall London SW1Y 5JG. The West Indian ex-servicemen and servicewomen association is based at 165 Clapham Manor Street London SW4 6DB. For information on the Memorial Gates Trust, email: [email protected] Squadron leader Pujji talks about his experiences at: theguardian.com/audio.

This note was added on Thursday December 11 2008. George Blackman, profiled above, was not the last Caribbean veteran of the first world war at the time this article was published there were at least two surviving members of the British West Indies Regiment: George Blackman and Stanley Stair of Jamaica. George Blackman died in 2003 Stanley Stair lived until 2008.


British West Indies Regiment

In May 1915 the British government announced that contingents for active service would be accepted from Jamaica, Barbados, British Guiana and Trinidad and Tobago, following the work by the Jamaica War Contingent Committee. This was quickly extended to include all the West Indies. Following the arrival of the first contingent, an announcement in the London Gazette in October 1915 declared that a corps had been formed and would be called ‘The British West Indies Regiment’.

Jamaicans living overseas were also recruited. The United Fruit Company managed the Jamaican fruit trade, and had a strong operation in Central America. Many Jamaican labourers worked in the Central American plantations. Men were therefore recruited from Central America, as well as the Panama Canal where Jamaicans and other British West Indians had moved for work. From May to August 1917, 2,100 recruits made the journey to Jamaica to join up.

In June 1917 a law was passed making all male British subjects between the ages of 18 and 41 living in Jamaica eligible for military service (with some exceptions). However, due to various delays and the American military’s transport needs, conscription was never enforced beyond the initial recruitment stages.

Although 185 men from the regiment were killed in the fighting, far more died from sickness. Many men were serving in climates that they were unused to. In 1916 the troopship Verdala which was carrying the third Jamaican contingent was redirected to Nova Scotia where, without adequate clothing, many men were incapacitated or died of frostbite and pneumonia (CO 318/338/32, CO 318/339/91).

Despite fighting alongside troops from Britain, the West Indian regiment was still not treated equally. In 1918 the pay of British soldiers was increased, but the increase was withheld from the West Indian regiment until the West Indian Contingent Committee wrote to the government with signatures of seven ex-West Indian Governors in protest (CO 318/347/51).


Watch the video: India Vs West Indies 1983 World Cup Finals Highlights