This remembrance Sunday I just wanted to take some knowledge I gained from Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book “Why I No Longer Talk To White People About Race” and share it with everyone.
This passage of this amazing book highlights the commendable, courageous and selfless actions of Black and Indian Soldiers during WW1. Also I would like to note that Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Burma, Myanmar, Bhutan and Bangladesh were apart of India at that time so if you come from any of those countries or the West Indies then big up your great-grandads!
“It could be that this misconception about exactly who fought for Britain during the first world war has led to a new erasure of contributions of black and brown people. This is an erasure that couldn’t be further from the truth. Over 1 million Indian soldiers – or Sepoys (Indian soldiers serving for Britain)-fought for Britain during the first world war. Britain had promised these soldiers that their country would be free from colonial rule if they did so. Sepoys travelled to Britain in the belief that they would not only be fighting for Britain, but by doing so they would be contributing to their country’s eventual freedom.
Their journey to Europe was unforgiving . They travelled by ship, without the appropriate clothing for the shift in climate. Many Sepoys suffered from a bitter cold that they’d never before experienced, with some dying from exposure. And even during the war, Sepoys didn’t receive the treatment that they were expecting. The highest ranking Sepoy was still lower in the army hierarchy then the lowest ranking white British soldier. If injured a Sepoy would be treated in the segregated Brighton pavilion and dome hospital for Indian troops. The hospital was surrounded with barbed wire to discourage wounded Sepoys from mixing with the locals. Around 74,000 Sepoys died fighting in the war, but Britain refused to deliver its promise of releasing India from colonial rule.
A much smaller number of soldiers travelled from the west Indies to fight for Britain. The Memorial gate trust, a charity set up to commemorate Indian, African and Caribbean soldiers who died for Britain in both world wars, puts the number at 15,600. These soldiers were known as the British West Indies regiment (BWIR). In the Caribbean, the British Army recruited from poor areas, and, similarly to India, there was a feeling among some would be recruits that taking part in the war would lead to political reform at home. But this opinion wasn’t wide spread, and there were a significant number of Caribbean people who were set against the west Indies fighting, calling it a “White Man’s War “. Despite the resistance of some, thousands of West Indians quit their jobs to travel to Europe.
Again, the long boat journey was unforgiving. Britain needed the extra labour, yet the government failed to provide West Indians with adequate clothing to survive the journey, just as they had it with the Sepoys. In 1916, the SS Verdala, travelling from the west Indies to West Sussex, how to make a day version to Halifax in eastern Canada. Hundreds of West Indian recruits suffered from frostbite with some dying from exposure to the harsh, cold climate.
When they arrived, the majority of the British West Indies regiment did not initially fight alongside white British soldiers on the battlefield. Instead, they were relegated to supporting positions, doing church work for the benefit of white soldiers. The duties included strenuous labour, such as digging trenches, building roads, and injured soldiers on stretches. As white British ranks were depleted in battle, West Indian soldiers were given permission to fight. Almost 200 men had died in action by the end of the war. By 1918, resentment among West Indian soldiers was wide spread. Where out the BWRR was stationed in Toronto, Italy, Simon got hold of news that white British soldiers had received a pay rise that the West Indian soldiers had been excluded from. Out raged at the treatment, the soldiers went on strike, gathering signatures for a petition to be sent to the secretary of state. This quickly evolved into an open rebellion. During that Toronto mutiny, and strike up a shot dead by a black no commission officer, and a bomb to set off. The rebellion was quickly crush and 60 suspected rebellious members of the British West Indies regiment were tried for their involvement in mutiny. Some were jailed, and one man was sentenced to death by firing squad.
Mistreated West Indian soldiers returned home and a crackdown on the Toronto mutiny contributed to a push for a black self-determination movement in the Caribbean but there were also black soldiers who chose to stay on in Britain after the warm. As the fighting came to an end and soldiers were demobilised, black Ex-soldiers living in Britain began to be targeted.”