Saturday, 24 May 2014


                                     BLACK                 SOCIAL                 HISTORY                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       The West India Regiment (WIR) was an infantry unit of the British Army recruited from and normally stationed in the British colonies of the Caribbean between 1795 and 1927. The regiment differed from similar forces raised in other parts of the British Empire in that it formed an integral part of the regular British Army. In 1958 the regiment was revived following the creation of the Federation of the West Indies with the establishment of three battalions, however, the regiment's existence was short-lived and it was disbanded in 1962 when its personnel were used to establish other units in Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. Throughout its history, the regiment was involved in a number of campaigns in the West Indies and Africa, and also took part in the First World War, where it served in the Middle East and East Africa 


Origins and early basis of recruitment

Eight West India Regiments were commissioned between 24 April and 1 September 1795. In addition to incorporating into the 1st West India Regiment the Carolina Corps that had been in existence since 1779, the original intention was both to recruit free blacks from the West Indian population and to purchase slaves from the West Indian plantations.[1][2] The eighth of the newly raised regiments (Skerrett's) was disbanded the following year but the quality of the new corps led to a further five West India Regiments being raised in 1798.[3]
In 1807 all serving black soldiers recruited as slaves in the West India Regiments of the British Army were freed under the Mutiny Act passed by the British parliament that same year.[4] In 1808 the Abolition Act caused all trading in slaves to be "utterly abolished, prohibited and decleared to be unlawful".[2] In 1812 a West African recruiting depot was established on Blance Island in Sierre Leone to train West African volunteers for the West India Regiments. By 1816 the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the reduction of the West India regiments to six enabled this depot to be closed.[5] Thereafter all recruitment for the various West India Regiments that fought in World War I and World War II were West Indian volunteers, with officers and some senior NCOs coming from Britain.
The WIR soldiers became a valued part of the British forces garrisoning the West Indies, where losses from disease and climate were heavy amongst white troops. The black Caribbean soldiers by contrast proved better adapted to tropical service. They served against locally recruited French units that had been formed for the same reasons. Free black Caribbeans soldiers played a prominent and often distinguished role in the military history of Latin America and the Caribbean.[6]

Nineteenth century

The regimental band playing in 1861
The new West India Regiments saw considerable service during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, including participation by the First WIR in the occupation of the French island of Marie-Galante in 1808. The Regiments were later involved in the War of 1812, both on the Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, taking part in the British attack on New Orleans. In 1800 there were 12 battalion-sized regiments which were seen as valuable also for dealing with slave revolt in the West Indies colonies. With numbers decreased by the effects of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, there was a shortfall of around five thousand at the start of the War of 1812, and the war offered hope of new recruitment from slaves fleeing the United States. However only eight joined the regiments from the Chesapeake Bay area in 1814, and a further thirteen on the coast of Georgia early in 1815.[7] Following the end of the War of 1812, numbers were progressively reduced but during most of the remainder of the nineteenth century there were never less than two West India Regiments. In 1888 these were merged into a single regiment comprising two battalions. A third battalion was raised in 1897, but was disbanded in 1904.
The 1st West India Regiment from Jamaica went to the Gold Coast of Africa to fight in the Ashanti War of 1873-4.[8]

Later years[edit]

The regiment served in West Africa throughout the 19th century. In the early part of the twentieth century one battalion was stationed in Sierra Leone and the other was in Jamaica recruiting and training, the battalions exchanging every three years.[9] The regiment fought in the Anglo-Ashanti Wars.

World War I

On the outbreak of war in August 1914, the 1st Battalion of the WIR was stationed in Freetown where it had been based for two and a half years. A detachment of the Regiment's signallers saw service in the German Cameroons, where Private L. Jordon earned a DCM and several other men were mentioned in dispatches.[10] The 1st Battalion returned to the West Indies in 1916.
The 2nd Battalion was sent from Kingston to West Africa in the second half of 1915. They took part in the capture of Yaoundé in January 1916. The Regiment was subsequently awarded the battle honour "Cameroons 1914-16". The 2nd Battalion, which had been divided into detachments, was brought together in Freetown in April 1916 and sent toMombassa in Kenya, to take part in the East African campaign against German colonial forces based in German East Africa.[11]
The five hundred and fifteen officers and men of the 2nd Battalion formed part of a column that took Dar es Salaam on 4 September 1916. After garrison duty, the battalion subsequently played a distinguished part in the Battle of Nyangao (German East Africa) in October 1917. For their service in East Africa the WIR earned eight Distinguished Conduct Medals, as well as the battle honour "East Africa 1914-18".
Following their active service in German Africa the 2nd Battalion of the West India Regiment was shipped to Suez in September 1918. It was then transferred to Lydda in Palestine where it spent the two remaining months of the War.[12] Two battalions of a newly raised regiment also recruited from black Caribbean soldiers: the similarly named British West Indies Regiment (see below), saw front line service against the Turkish Army during the Palestine Campaign. General Allenby sent the following telegram to the Governor of Jamaica: "I have great pleasure in informing you of the gallant conduct of the machine-gun section of the 1st British West Indies Regiment during two successful raids on the Turkish trenches. All ranks behaved with great gallantry under heavy rifle and shell fire and contributed in no small measure to the success of the operations".[13][14]