1914-1918: Black British WWI Forces

Despite the protests of Lord Kitchener who believed black men should not be allowed to serve, many black men volunteered for and were recruited to all branches of the British armed forces during the First World War. 

Black men were recruited from Britain's African colonies including Gambia, the Gold Coast, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone - a total of more than 120,000 Black African men. More than 15,000 black men from the Caribbean volunteered to serve in the British Army. At first, they were placed within regular units across the service, but in 1915, the decision was made to form a new regiment specifically for them - the British West Indies Regiment (BWIR).

Those men who volunteered from the Caribbean had to travel to England at their own expense.  When their ships were forced to divert course via Canada, hundreds were afflicted with severe frostbite. These men had to return to the Caribbean as unfit to serve, and received neither benefits nor compensation.

All commanding officers in the BWIR were white, and no black man was permitted to hold a higher rank than Sergeant. Once deployed, all fighting was carried out by white soldiers, while the BWIR were given support work loading ammunition, laying cables and digging trenches. Most were unarmed.

Thank you to: Black History 365; Steven Johns

All images: Topfoto