Caribbean Soldier involved in World War 1
Caribbean Soldier on line search
The WW1 service records for the West India Regiment (WIR) and British West Indies Regiment (BWIR) are believed to have been destroyed by a German bombing raid that struck the War Office repository in Arnside Street, London in September 1940. However, an estimated 2.8 million service records survived the bombing or were reconstructed from the records of the Ministry of Pensions. There is a 40% chance of finding the service record of a soldier who was discharged at some time between 1914 and 1920.
If an individual began their service with one of these regiments and moved to another unit, it is possible that you may be able to find their service record among those in The National Archives, (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk). Surviving First World War service records are now available on http://www.ancestry.co.uk/cs/uk/military.
The Imperial War Museum is seeking to expand their holdings for any WW1 and WW2 items, memoirs, photographs, publications, etc. that could be added to their collections.
The WIR was started in 1795, around the time of the American War of Independence, and was made up of freed African slaves from America and some men who were recruited directly from slave ships arriving from Africa. There were twelve battalions of the WIR in 1799. This large regiment of troops included the 10,000 men who were freed by an 1807 order from the British Parliament. These men were trained to fight against the French soldiers in the West Indies and served in the Napoleonic Wars, in the 19th century Ashanti Wars (1864 and 1873-4), as well as fighting in New Orleans. This was not the first time and it would not be the last time that the British government used black troops to secure its territories.
Conscription was introduced in Jamaica and Grenada in 1917, but was never enforced. Throughout the British Empire it was the rule that conscripted soldiers received around two thirds less pay than a volunteer; this recruitment method was never imposed.
The BWIR was set up in 1915, specifically for the black West Indians, and had twelve battalions of volunteers. The final pressure for allowing the West Indians to join the battle had come from King George V who approved the formation of the BWIR from the existing West India Regiment (WIR).
The similarity of titles has sometimes led to confusion between this war-time unit and the long established West India Regiment. Both were recruited from black Caribbean volunteers and a number of officers from the WIR were transferred to the BWIR.
Initially the new regiment was made up of men from:
- British Guiana—A Company
- Trinidad—B Company
- Trinidad and St Vincent—C Company
- Grenada and Barbados—D Company.