Lest We Forget – The British West Indies Regiment

The British West Indies Regiment


Three lads of the British West Indies Regiment

The regular West India Regiment long pre-dated the “Great War” and its 1st Battalion, based at Freetown, sent a detachment for service in German Cameroons. 2nd Battalion saw much service in the West and East African campaigns and then went to Palestine in September 1918.

The so called “Great War” or World War I, covering the four years of 1914 to 1918, began in central Europe in late July 1914, and though it’s causes included many churlish factors – such as the conflicts and hostility between the larger European powers of the four decades leading up to the war – militarism, alliances, imperialism, and nationalism played major roles in the conflict that ended in throwing away the lives of millions of young men – not for what they believed to be true and good but for a select few who beleived their power was under threat. The immediate origins of the war, therefore, lay in the decisions taken by statesmen and generals during the “July Crisis” of 1914 caused by the assassination of an Archduke, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie by the Surbian student Gavrilo Princip, an irredentist member of a Serbian nationalist organization called Black Hand.

Following the outbreak of these hostilities in 1914 many West Indians left the colonies to enlist in the army in the UK and were recruited into British regiments. However, the War Office was concerned with the number of black soldiers in the army and tried to prevent any people from the West Indies enlisting. Indeed, the War Office threatened to repatriate any who arrived. Eventually, after much discussion between the Colonial Office and the War Office, and the intervention of King George V, approval to raise a West Indian contingent was given on 19 May 1915. On 26 October 1915 the British West Indies Regiment was established.

The creation of the British West Indies Regiment, passed on 3 November 1915, was formalised by Army Order number 4 of 1916. The Order stated that the regiment would be recognised as a corps for the purposes of the Army Act.

Battalions formed by this regiment

1st Battalion
Formed at Seaford, Sussex, England from West Indies volunteers: A Company from British Guiana, B from Trinidad, C from Trinidad & St. Vincent, D from Grenada & Barbados.
Served in Egypt and Palestine.
War diary September 1915 – April 1919 (WO95/4427, 4433, 4410, 4732)

2nd Battalion
Served in Egypt and Palestine.
War diary January 1916 – April 1919 (WO95/4427, 4433, 4732)

3rd Battalion
Served in France & Flanders.
War diary March 1916 – January 1919 (WO95/4465, 338)

4th Battalion
Served in France & Flanders.
War diary May – November 1918 (WO95/409)

5th Battalion
A reserve draft-finding unit .
War diary July 1916 – April 1919 (WO95/4465)

6th Battalion
Served in France & Flanders.
War diary March 1917 – April 1919 (WO95/495)

7th Battalion
Served in France & Flanders.
War diary June – December 1917 (WO95/409)

8th Battalion
Served in France & Flanders and went to Italy in 1918.
War diary July – December 1917 (WO95/338)

9th Battalion
Served in France & Flanders and went to Italy in 1918.
War diary July – December 1917 (WO95/338)

10th Battalion
Served in France and Italy.

11th Battalion
Served in France and Italy.


The regimental badge as depicted by CWGC on the gravestone of Pte 13576 Phillip Byles of the 10th Battalion. He now lies in Longuenesse Souvenir Cemetery near St Omer in France. Author’s collection.

The contribution of the West Indies

A total of 397 officers and 15,204 men, representing all Caribbean colonies, served in the BWIR. Of the total, 10,280 (66%) came from Jamaica. Athough at least 380 men served in this war from Grenada, they had joined many regiments all over the globe (primarily throughout the USA).

In addition contributing to the British West Indies regiment, Bermuda raised two more contingents: the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps (which was attached to the 1st Lincolnshire Regiment) and the Bermuda Garrison Artillery. Other men joined other British and Canadian regiments; some quite possibly joined the United States army too but we have yet to confirm this.

Further reading

  • F. Cundall, Jamaica’s Part in the Great War, 1914–1918 (Institute of Jamaica, 1925)
  • Guy Grannum, Tracing Your West Indian Ancestors (PRO Publications, 2002)
  • C. L. Joseph, “The British West Indies Regiment 1914–1918”, Journal of Caribbean History, vol. II, May 1971, pp. 94–124
  • Richard Smith, Jamaican Volunteers in the First World War (Manchester University Press, 2004)
  • J. A. P. M. Andrade, A Record of the Jews in Jamaica: From the English Conquest to the Present Time (Jamaica, 1941). This includes a list of the Jewish members of the Forces who were from Jamaica, who served during the First World War (not all of whom served with the BWIR).
  • The list of the first 380 Grenadian men aged 14 to 40 who left for the US, UK, Canada and Austrailia shortly before WW1 and then joined up, G.N.A, 1920, pp.4.

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