Remembrance Sunday: Lest we forget

On Sunday 11th November many people will pay their respects to the brave men and women who died in the First and Second World Wars and subsequent conflicts to secure the freedoms we enjoy today.

Remembering those people is the least we can do, and in a world that seems to be moving further away from its humanity, I think this day of reflection is an ideal opportunity to stop thinking about ourselves for a bit and contemplate the thousands of people who made the ultimate sacrifice.

My dad, who is from Barbados, served in the British Army. He doesn’t talk much about his service but I know he is proud of being in the military and I am proud of him too. I am also proud of the countless men and women from the Caribbean, or with Caribbean heritage, who have served the UK in uniform from WWI to the present day.

I’ve already written about black WWI soldier Walter Tull on this blog but there are literally thousands of Walter Tull’s throughout our history who haven’t even been recognised for their contributions to keep Britain and its allies safe.

I mentioned in a recent post about the famous ‘Windrush Generation’ how it was news to me that the Windrush ship was actually on its return leg, when it brought hundreds of West Indians to the UK with dreams of a better life.

On the way out to the Caribbean it was packed with soldiers who had fought in WWII and were returning home to their islands with physical and emotional wounds. It saddens me that we weren’t taught that side of the story at all in school.

An article which speaks of the continuing ignorance surrounding our contribution to the UK over the years through blood, sweat and tears, and the damage it has caused, is currently on the BBC website – The Caribbean honours its overlooked WW1 soldiers.

This is a well-written piece by Gemma Handy which specifically looks at servicemen from Antigua and Barbuda who volunteered to take part in the First World War and were still treated badly by the UK.

Speaking to the BBC, the chairman of the Ex-Servicemen’s Association in Antigua Pagget Messiah says: “Blacks were begrudgingly accepted into the war effort, but their support was absolutely essential. Without it, the outcome would have been very different.”

The article also mentions how the Cenotaph in Antigua still does not feature all of the names of the men from the island who died in the Great War between 1914-1918.

But I believe the fact that their story is being told now is still an important act of remembrance, and I hope more stories like this are uncovered and shared so that everyone knows the people of the Caribbean played our part – lest we forget.

 

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Fighting for King and Empire

Well it seems a few people might be beginning to understand the value of Caribbean people to Britain over the decades, as there seems to be almost a plethora of news, exhibitions, articles and programmes that have emerged recently celebrating the theme of this website.

The BBC are showing a documentary tomorrow (Wednesday 13th May) that fits in nicely with some of the posts I have put on here about the brave men and women from the West Indies who voluntarily fought in WWI and WWII for ‘the mother country’. The film, called ‘Fighting for King and Empire: Britain’s Caribbean heroes’ will be shown on BBC Four tomorrow at 9pm and will then be available on demand on the BBC player.

The promotional copy for the documentary says: “This programme is based on a film entitled Divided By Race – United in War and Peace, produced by The-Latest.com.

During the Second World War, thousands of men and women from the Caribbean colonies volunteered to come to Britain to join the fight against Hitler. They risked their lives for King and Empire, but their contribution has largely been forgotten.

In this programme, some of the last surviving Caribbean veterans tell their extraordinary wartime stories: from torpedo attacks by German U-boats and the RAF’s blanket bombing of Germany to the culture shock of Britain’s freezing winters and war-torn landscapes. This brave sacrifice confronted the pioneers from the Caribbean with a lifelong challenge – to be treated as equals by the British government and the British people.

In testimony full of wit and charm, the veterans candidly reveal their experiences as some of the only black people in wartime Britain. They remember encounters with a curious British public and confrontation with the prejudices of white American GIs stationed in Britain.

After the war, many veterans returned to the Caribbean where they discovered jobs were scarce. Some came back to Britain to help rebuild its cities. They settled down with jobs and homes, got married and began to integrate their rich heritage into British culture. Now mostly in their 80s and 90s – the oldest is 104 – these pioneers from the Caribbean have helped transform Britain and created an enduring multicultural legacy.

With vivid first-hand testimony, observational documentary and rare archive footage, the programme gives a unique perspective on the Second World War and the history of 20th-century Britain.”

I’m going to try and watch it – I hope you will too.

See also:

http://www.the-latest.com/bbc-film-recognise-britains-caribbean-heroes

http://newafricanmagazine.com/britain-divided-by-race-united-in-war/

West Indian officers in WWI

I read recently on the BBC website about a man of Jamaican descent called David Louis Clemetson who volunteered to join the armed forces in WWI and became an officer in the Yeomanry in 1915 which is today’s equivalent of the territorial army.

The BBC suggests that this would make him the first black officer in the British army rather than Walter Tull although it does admit that Tull was an officer in the regular army which is an important distinction. But these two men along with another man of Jamaican descent called George Bemand (who apparently lied about his black heritage so he could get around regulations which forbid black officers in the British army at that time) were obviously incredibly brave and proud.

In fact according to the BBC article on Clemetson, 16,000 West Indians served in the rank and file in WWI in segregated units like the British West India regiments and I am extremely honoured that these soldiers were willing to die to secure a better future for generations unknown.

I also find it endlessly fascinating that so long ago people who were descendants of slaves were voluntarily fighting for the British and dying for the Empire.

These stories seem to be coming to light more and more because of the centenary of the first World War and I am glad that we are finding out about this rich history which shows the unbelievable contribution people of Caribbean descent have made to this island over many years in blood, sweat and tears.

Check out the full story of David Louis Clemetson on the BBC website – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-31796542

An officer and a gentleman

Walter Tull was born in Folkestone in Kent in 1888 – his father was Barbadian and his mother was English. He became an orphan at the age of eight and was brought up at a national Methodist children’s home in Bethnal Green.

Tull became the second mixed race person to play in the top flight Football League when he joined Tottenham Hotspur in 1909. In 1911 he joined Northampton Town where he made over 100 appearances before WWI cut short his promising career.

Tull died on the battlefield in France after a military career that was as distinguished as his time as a footballer. His life is a unique, educational and moving story that is an inspiration to every person of Caribbean descent.

 

References / further reading:

http://www.vasili.co.uk/history-of-black-footballers.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/london/content/articles/2008/02/20/walter_tull_feature.shtml

http://www.100greatblackbritons.com/bios/walter_tull.html

http://www.centenarynews.com/article?id=3000