West Indian's in the First World War

During the First World War many West Indians joined the British army to defend Britain. At first Caribbean people of European Heritage, Mulato (light skinned) Africans and Anglo-Indians joined the regular regiments. Most of these recruits were living in the United Kingdom, but many paid their own cost of travel across the Atlantic to enlist. In 1915, the British West Indies Regiment was established and 15000 men enlisted; of whom 10,000 were from Jamaica.

People from the British colonies ignored their state of entrenched poverty and under development to lay down their lives during the First World War in defence of Britain, our former slave and colonial masters. The British West Indies Regiment served in practically every theatre of war with the exception of Gallipoli. The people of the West Indies also gave generously, contributing nearly £2 million to the British government war funds and charities in the UK. They also provided sugar, rum, fruit and fuel oil.  Greater still, they presented an aircraft to the RAF. 

Evidence of West Indian contribution to the war effort, can be found in photographic and written data housed at the Imperial War Museum covering the period 1915 -1918:


Scope and content: Subject List 276 in the Imperial War Museum Photograph Archive lists 21 items of groups and individual images of servicemen recruited from Jamaica, Trinidad, Grenada and the Bahamas to serve with the British West Indies Regiment during the First World War. The list has been divided into 5 sections, each providing details of photograph negative numbers and image contents.


Q 17130 - A platoon of West Indian troops parading for musketry instruction, Grenada.
Q 17131 - A platoon of West Indian troops at physical drill in Grenada.


Q 52372 - The second Bahamas contingent marching through Nassau, November 1915.
Q 52371 - The presentation of colours to the second Bahamas contingent, Nassau, November 1915.
Q 52376 - The second Bahamas contingent depositing their colours at Government House, November 1915.


Q 52442 - The departure of the first merchants contingent of West Indian troops, Kingston, Jamaica, 8 November 1915.
Q 54215 - A contingent of West Indian troops marching through Kingston, Jamaica on the way to the harbour, 1916.
Q 52429 - The second contingent of Jamaican troops undergoing physical drill, Kingston, Jamaica.
Q 52421 - An inspection of the second contingent of West Indian troops prior to their departure, Kingston, Jamaica, January 1916.
Q 52422 - The band which headed the second contingent of Jamaican troops, Kingston, January 1916.


Q 52436 - Photograph of a recruiting meeting held at Port of Spain, Trinidad, 1916.
Q 52434 - Trinidad artillery volunteers on parade, 1916.
Q 52439 - Trinidad artillery volunteers undergoing gun drill, 1916.
Q 52440 - The Trinidad Light Infantry enrolled in the British West Indies Regiment.
Q 52446 - The West Indian people provided many essential commodities including sugar, rum, wood, cotton and fuel oil    during the First World War. Photograph shows a country cart bringing in oranges which were then shipped to other parts of the Empire.
Q 52445 - Crates of oranges waiting for shipment from Trinidad. Many of these were given to hospitals and nursing homes of the British Red Cross Society.


Q 1201 - Men of the British West Indian Regiment cleaning their rifles, Albert-Amiens Road, September 1916.
Q 1202 - The British West Indian Regiment in camp on the Albert-Amiens Road, September 1916.
E(AUS) 2078 - West Indian troops stacking 8 shells at a dump on the Gordon Road, Ypres, October 1917.
Q 51352 - Men of the British West Indies Regiment creating dugouts for XX Corps HQ on the cliffs of the Mediterranean at Sheikh Shabasi, near Deir-el-Belah, (no date).
Q 51354 - Cooks of the British West Indian Regiment at Sheikh Shabasi, near Deir-el-Belah, (no date).

The push and pull factors of Caribbean Migration:

In 1936 the populations of these colonies, as recorded by the Colonial Office were: Jamaica - 1,138,558; Trinidad & Tobago - 412,783; Guyana - 332,898; Barbados - 188,294; theThe Windward Islands of Grenada, St Lucia and St Vincent (combined) - 209,846; the Leeward Islands (Antigua, St Kitts, Montserrat, British Virgin Islands) together with Dominica (later transferred to the Windward Islands colony) -139,759.1 The population of Belize, 98,453 in 1962,2 was probably less than 80,000 in 1936.

On 12 December 1942 , in Jamaica, 505,092 persons were classified as gainfully occupied. The actual truth was that 283,439 were actual wage earners, 88,981 were classified as unemployed and 50,528 between ages 15 and 24 who had never worked; 153,274 persons. were classified as self employed.
Replication of Social colonial policies:

The factors driving labour rebellions in the colonies were poverty and colour discrimination by sugar employers in Antigua, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts and Trinidad. O ther major employers were the Oil industry in Trinidad; bauxite and  banana plantations in Jamaica, bauxite in British Guyana and logging and lumber production in Belize.

In the 1930s, cricket was the single sporting glue inter-colony contact. Many from Grenada and Barbados to Trinidad for employment in the oil industry. There had also been migration from these islands and Barbados to Guyana. But apart from these migrations, the workers in each colony had remained isolated from their counterparts in the other colonies.

West Indians in Britain's 2nd World War

Many historians will talk and write about the arrival of the MV Empire Windrush at Tilbury, Essex, 60 years ago as the flagship of  multiculturalism. However, they have failed to reveal that the majority of the 492 West Indians on board were military personnel who had been deported at the end of the Second World War because of the racial conflict arising out of injured white millitary personnel refusing to share hospital wards with the injured military personnel of African Heritage.  Lord Millner, the Colonial Secretary, is reported to have commented, "The deportation of wounded military personnel from the West Indies in one of the greatest travesty of justice, imposed on a people who have and were prepared to lay down their lives in defence of Britain."   The majority of those who paid £28 10s fare to travel to Britain, were veterans who fought for Britain in the Second World War. The question which has to be posed is, "Why did "Black skinned military personnel deported from the UK, when the UK was in urgent need of skilled personnel to help rebuild a devastated 'Mother Country'?"

Credit has to be given to the Imperial War Museum for recording the contributions of West Indians to both World Wars. Stories of those who later settled in Britain, has been the focus of an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum London, 'From War to Windrush'.  The exhibition records the role played by Caribbean peoples in both world wars, and the vicious discrimination they faced from the British for whom they were sacrificing their lives. Over 15,000 West Indians volunteered to join the fight against Hitler. Thousands more served as merchant seamen. The RAF gained more recruits from the Caribbean than any other part of the British Empire. There were 400 pilots and air crew, and 6,000 ground staff.

In a meeting with Cy Grant  at his home in North London, he explained that he was one of the first West Indian recruits from the colony of Britsih Guyana to enlist with the Royal Air Force.  He was shot down over the Netherlands and spent two years as a prisoner of war. On his release, he set up home in Britain where he studied and qualified as a barrister, before pursuing a role as an actor and singer. His RAF flying logbook was displayed in the exhibition. There was also, a First World War telegram from King George V expressing sympathy on the death of Walter Tull, the former Tottenham Hotspur footballer who in 1917 became the first black officer in the British army.

West Indians who would not submit to the white supremacist dogma, became the trigger for the very frequent explosive cultural head-on clashes with US soldiers stationed the UK. Americans from segregated Southern states whose practice was to lynch and burn people of African Heritage in America wished to have the same uncivilised and racist remit in Britain. Those chaps found that people of African Heritage from the colonies were not prepared to step aside nor give way to anyone who persisted in acting out the master and the slave relationship. West Indians defined the combative relationship in the colloquial, "Massa day done". 

The uncivilised white Americans who were used to drinking in 'whites-only' bars in America, were enraged to find black men in uniform drinking with white military personnel and associating with white women.  Those military personnel of African Heritage were not only engaged in a war against Hitler, they were having to fight civic wars with white racist Americans on British soil. The Americans soon learned that West Indians were not the type to emulate Jesus by turning the other cheek, but instead chose emulate the attributes of the Old Testament, " an eye for an eye".  West Indians were forced to take that approach because no protection was offered by the British Authority to prevent the abuses and threats to their lives. West Indians took the view that they were not protected because they were still regarded as expendable commodities, and that the British Governments allowed white Americans the right to their past-time in which they were allowed to brutalise Africans in Britain, as they did in America. 

Many of the Caribbean Africans avoided going to pubs because they were selected as prime targets for racial abuse; and when they defended themselves, they were the ones who were arrested and further brutalised by the police in their past-time of Joseph A Hunte's "Nigger Hunting". West Indians' refusal to adopt the docility of slaves, led to numerous fights with white males. Women, however, were more welcoming.  They wanted to experience the delight in the novelty of loving a man of African Heritage. To prevent such relationships from developing, white men described all white women who associated with men of African Heritage as prostitutes. They claimed that white women of high moral values would not sleep with  'black men'; only prostitutes would. The police took the same view.  As a consequence, any male person of African Heritage who was seen driving a new car, was deemed to be living off immoral earnings, and therefore a prime target to be stopped, arrested, perhaps beaten to a pulp, then taken before the magistrates and found guilty of attacking the police officers.

When the Second World War ended in 1945, it was quickly recognised that the reconstruction of the British economy required a large influx of migrant labour. The Royal Commission on Population reported in 1949 that immigrants of 'good stock' would be welcomed  'without reserve', and newcomers from the Caribbean soon became aware of the pressing needs of the labour market in the UK.  Immigration from the West Indies was encouraged by the British Nationality Act of 1948, which gave all Commonwealth citizens free entry into Britain.  We were described as "Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies". The symbolic starting point of this mass migration to the 'mother country' was the journey of the SS Empire Windrush from Kingston, Jamaica, to Tilbury, Essex, in June 1948. On board were a mix of about 492 West Indians whose purposes were to start new lives in Britain. Starting a new life in London was underpinned by Lord Kitchener's calypso, "London is the place for me". Many of them held the view that they would work for about five years within which time they would achieve their objectives to enable them to return to the Caribbean.  

There was no hint of 'Rooms and flats to let, No Children, No Irish, No dogs, No coloureds'; nor in employment where job vacancies were stamped in red 'N.C.P' which was not the acronym for 'National Car Park' but 'No Coloured Person'. It against that triade of racism and racial discrimination West Indian Standing Conference (WISC) was inaugurated in 1958. It was recommended by Chief Minister Norman Manley that an oraganisation should be formed with the purpose to mitigate the impact of racism by white people upon those of African Heritage. He found it racially bias that Britain had allowed such virulent acts of racism to be exacted against they people they had invited from the colonies to "Come and help rebuild the Mother Country".  In the colonies the Colonial Office engaged in a marketing strategy which showed "white people" welcoming "black people" into their homes.   As a consequence of believing the marketing to be true, the calypsonian Lord Kitchener, arriving on the SS Windrush sang his calypso, "London is the place for me" aboard the SS Windrush in Tilbury Docks in 1948. London has been the place for many who came many years before the Windrush.

Commonwealth Migration

In 1948, the government set up a working party to consider the employment of colonial labour. Demand for labour from the Caribbean Colonies, where unemployment  and under-development were the push and pull factors in 1948  in Britain. The people who came  on the SS Empire Windrush were guaranteed employment in the construction, transport and National Health Service. There were no restrictions on immigration from the Commonwealth and Colonies, and as British subjects we  had full rights as "Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies"; within the British Nationality Act of 1948. 

A Committee of British Ministers who addressed immigration in 1951 argued that the problem of immigration was a minor one, and advised against the reversal of the long-standing policy of allowing British subjects access to the United Kingdom. By 1954, increases in African Heritage migration rose to over 135,000 per year. As a consequence, the Secretary of State for the Home Office, Gwilym Lloyd George, raised the idea of legislation to prevent free movement of colonial immigrants to the united Kingdom. He was prepared to contradict the Colonial Offices in the respective colonies, showing films of white people welcoming people of African Heritage into their homes.

In 1955, the Colonial Office produced a draft White Paper on immigration restrictions and an inter-departmental committee prepared a report on the associated economic and social problems of Commonwealth immigration. The Colonial Secretary, Alan Lennox-Boyd, argued that draft proposals aimed at West Indian immigration were racially discriminatory, as the large majority of immigrants were Irish. In 1956, on advice from a specially convened committee of ministers, the Cabinet shelved legislation plans against Commonwealth immigration.

The Impact of the Notting Hill riots on Caribbean Migration

In 1958, Lord Hailsham produced a draft Bill to stop immigration from the Caribbean Colonies, but the Cabinet decided there was still no immediate need for legislation. It is argued that the advent of the Notting Hill riots made immigration a hot political topic. The Cabinet once again considered legislation, but members were unwilling to proceed given the proximity of a general election. The policy was to persuade Chief Ministers in the Caribbean  Colonies to limit emigration.  This view was expressed against the historical experience of exploitation and brutality by the Colonials masters during Slavery; and deliberate under-development of the Colonies during Colonialism.  The focus for exclusion was people of African Heritage.  That focus remains today in an environment in which Germans who were committed to destroying the United Kingdom, have more rights to entering the United Kingdom without hindrance, than the children and grand children of those of African Heritage who gave their lives in defence of the United Kingdom during Hitler's War. 
Historical Objectives

The Notting Hill riots of 1958 revealed that Britain was inherently racist. Colour prejudice and discrimination were widespread. The Chief Ministers of the West Indian Colonies agreed that there was a need for an organisation to act on behalf of the growing post‐war West Indian population in Britain. The leaders of the various social, religious, and cultural organizations formed the West Indian Standing Conference (WISC)

WISC was given the responsibility to advocate and campaign for policies and strategies which involved partnership with organisations and institutions that empathised with the quest to promote equal opportunity, improve race relations, tolerance and understanding amongst people of different cultures.  

WISC's aim was and remains the elimination of racial discrimination, other categories of racist bigotry, and race hate crimes which have led to the famous race hate murders of Kelso Cochrane and Stephen Lawrence; and to put in place the framework for creating a fair and just society”.  WISC is constituted by trust deed, and its objectives are:

(a) To preserve in West Indian Standing Conference Limited that spirit of Caribbean unity and unification, although the federation has been dissolved and in spite of the present political evolution in the territories of the Caribbean;

(b) To work in the United Kingdom towards the elimination of racial discrimination thereby promoting common equality of opportunity for all racial groups and to co-operate with all other organisations where interests coincide with these aims at local or national level both inside and outside of Britain;

(c) To strive for the Social , Political, Economic and Cultural aspirations of all peoples of West Indian origin and their families, to foster racial harmony amongst people of all races;

(d) To maintain a liaison with Caribbean Government offices in the United Kingdom and to bring to their attention problems concerning West Indians in Britain or in the Caribbean

(e) The policy of the WISC is to seek additional finance and support to enable it to fulfil its objectives.

In summary, the aims and objectives of WISC's Constitution were to establish a network of West Indian organisations in London and the provinces; establish a good working relationship with the High Commissions to address isues of common interest; provide leadership within the West Indian community with the purpose of securing equal and fair treatment from Government institutions; and establish a sound working relationship with other communities. 

In the immediacy of the break‐up of the West Indian Federation, and the advent of Independence, made it difficult to retain the smooth working relationship with each Caribbean Colony, as was the signature of the West Indies Cricket Team under the Leadership of Sir Frank Worrell,  Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Clive LLoyd and  Sir Vivian Richards. In the wake of those difficulties; WISC had to contend with the visssisstude of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, 1968 and 1971 which were all aimed at stopping the migration of people of African Heritage to Britain.
The Commonwealth Immigration Act 1962

In 1960, the Home Secretary, Richard ‘Rab’ Butler, guided the Bill that became the Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1962. This controlled the migration of all Commonwealth passport holders, except those who held UK passports. Prospective immigrants now needed to apply for a work voucher, graded according to the applicant's employment prospects.

The Labour Government had fiercely opposed Commonwealth immigration controls. The experience of the 1964 elections, was one in which the Tory Party showed  the extent to which it was prepared to use racism to win the general election.  The Tory Party's Bill boards c\arried the message, "IF YOU WANT A NIGGER FOR A NEIGHBOUR, VOTE LABOUR."   In 1965, the government substantially reduced the number of vouchers available to Caribbean migrants. 

Enoch Powell a former Tory Minister of Health who supported the call for "Citzens of the United Kingdom and Colonies" help rebuild the 'Mother Country' had shown his venom of racism in his  'Rivers of Blood' a speech delivered to a Conservative Association meeting in Birmingham on April 20 1968.  

"...For these dangerous and divisive elements the legislation proposed in the Race Relations Bill is the very pabulum they need to flourish. Here is the means of showing that the immigrant communities can organise to consolidate their members, to agitate and campaign against their fellow citizens, and to overawe and dominate the rest with the legal weapons which the ignorant and the ill-informed have provided. As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see "the River Tiber foaming with much blood."

Enoch Powell's rage against people of African Heritage had been misdirected in his incandescent defining of the Race Relations Bill - our quest for seeking equal and fair treatment, as a 'dangerous and divisive' pabulum - an evokative source of nourishment in the consolidation of their members to agitate and campaign against fellow citizens. If Enoch was right, he was perhaps right about 9/11/2001 in the United States and 7/7/2005 in the UK. Nevertheless, he had turned his attention to the wrong community.

The Commonwealth Immigration Act 1968

In 1967, Asians who were decanted from Kenya and Uganda began to arrive in Britain. They had retained their British citizenship following independence, and were therefore not subject to the Act. The Conservative Enoch Powell and his associates campaigned for tighter controls. To soften the impact of the Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1968, Harold Wilson promoted the advent of the 1965 Race Relations Act as hypothesised by Joseph A Hunte, General Secretary, West Indian Standing Conference. It extended control to those without a parent or grandparent who was born in or was a citizen of the UK.

The Immigration Act 1971

The Conservative government placed on the statute, the Immigration Act of 1971. The act which replaced employment vouchers with work permits, allowed only temporary residence. It applied the principle of 'Patrials'  allowing only those who had parents or grandparent born in the United Kingdom to be exempted from the act. The Act also made some provision for assisting voluntary repatriation.

WISC is dedicated to the quest to eliminate race hate and to enhance the quality of life for all peoples in the United Kingdom by continuing to be the champion and custodian of the philosophy of Equal Opportunity and Human Rights; a quest which it began in 1958 and led to the 1965 Race Relations ACT.  WISC holds the view that Equality must mean equal and fair treatment for all communities. No community should be excluded from being an integral part of the British society.
The Impact
WISC takes pride in the knowledge that communities, even those who did not support the campaign have had the quality of their lives enhanced through the implementation of the 1965 Race Relations Act, the Principles of Equal Opportunity and the subsequent revisions and amendments in 1968 creating Community Relations Councils, 1976 Race Relations Act which created the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commissio, 1999 Disability Rights Commission and the 2007 Commission for Equality and Human Rights. Notting Hill 1958, Brixton 1981, Brixton 1985, Tottenham 1985  riots were indicators of all that were wrong the absence of social integration and aggressive policing in Britain. 

A high point of WISC's work was the publication of Joseph Hunte's Nigger‐Hunting in England in 1966.  It dealt with the allegations of police brutality. Interracial gatherings were no substitute for action to create equal opportunities for people of African Heritage in employment, housing, police relations and other social sectors. WISC became more militant in its call for social action on the part of the British authorities. ‘Integration’ had to mean full and equal access to all the services and opportunities in society. 

West Indian Standing Conference is a company limited by guarantee and incorporated in England No. 4753439
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