Schools in Nottingham are changing the way in which the history of World War 1 is taught by acknowledging the contribution of Caribbean soldiers.
Nottingham city council is taking steps to diversify the high school history curriculum and educationalist Steven Cooke believes that is incredibly important “to reflect the diversity of Britain in the history curriculum”.
“it’s often a forgotten story, in the history of things”
Steven cooke – education consultant
The council feels deeply about including the contributions of Caribbean men in WW1 stating “It’s often forgotten that there were black Caribbean soldiers fighting I the first world war and the second world war.”
And this is something which schools are aiming to change for this academic year.
In 1915 the British West Indies Regiment was created, which allowed men from every British owned Caribbean island and territory to take part in the war.
Field Marshall Kitchener and the British war council resented this as they did not feel comfortable having black men fight alongside white men. They worried black fighters might see themselves as equals.
Many Caribbean’s were excited and proud to fight for his Majesty’s Army, on the side of the Allies, because many feared that a loss to Germany would mean the re-introduction of slavery.
However their eagerness to join was met with disdain when they arrived in Europe to fight on the front line, where they received endless racial abuse.
“just being called darkie was ok”
Catherine Ross found of the SKN Heritage Museum
Miss Ross described how black soldiers were not allowed to be Officers “because white officers looked after the black regiments” and were given to most labour-intense and menial jobs often putting them at the greatest risk of being shot.
With the hope of gaining more political freedom from Britain and possible independence, many prominent politicians such as Marcus Garvey and Norman Manley (Jamaica’s second Prime Minister) were avid supporters of the war and led a campaign for more men to join the BWIR
Historian Stephen Bourne wrote a book about the stories of Caribbean men in the war, called Black Poppies. During his research he came across the autobiography on Norman Manley
Over 60,000 men from the Caribbean took part in the war and over £2 million pounds were given to Britain to help with the war effort, along with ambulances, clothes, food and rum.
Yet their contributions to the war have never been mentioned on memorial day or in history lessons until now.
- Over 60, 000 men joined the Army after the British West Indies Regiment was Created in 1915, one third of them came from Jamaica
- An unknown number of men joined the Canadian and British regiment as Canadian or British citizens in order to fight
- Over £2 million pounds in modern day money was given to British charity to help with the war Effort
- In 1918, the BWIR held a mutiny in Taranto, Italy because of horrible working conditions and discrimination towards payment of black soldiers
- On the Western Front, Black Caribbean Soldiers were not allowed to fight, instead they were forced to dig trenches, clean the Latrines and loading ammunition
- On the Eastern Front, many Caribbean soldiers were able to take part in the fighting, and one victories that helped to topple the Ottoman Empire
- After the war, many returned home to poverty and destitution and did not receive the payment they were promised from the British Government
But will people be happy about this new change in the curriculum, I spoke to a few people in Nottingham to hear their opinions.