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Remembered Today:

Black soldiers in WW1 British Army


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Another Black soldier who joined the CEF early was 5085 Spr.M.S.Dymond, 1st Fd Coy, CE, who enlisted at Valcartier in September,1914. The Diamonds (note that the name was spelled both ways) were and are a Black family in my arwea and this is another example of the fact the Black soldiers did indeed enlist early despite attempts to prevent them from doing so.

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First of all, apologies for any technical cock-ups I make as your newest member. I got my first real PC a month ago,since when my learning curve and time have been affected by my elderly father having broken his hip.

In November 1918 a West Indian soldier was noted working in an office at Bulford Camp, Wiltshire. "He is only here temporarily & is supposed to be a clever man ... having the degree of Batchelor of Science. He is a jolly well-spoken figure & is looked upon as a kind of mascot by the WAACs."

The Times newspaper of March 4, 1915, notes that Private James Slim, born in Jamaica, had enlisted in the 4th Coldtream Guards at Windsor. He had served in the French Foreign Legion and after being wounded in the trenches had asked to join the British Army. He was "the first coloured guardsman within memory". (I came across this several years ago when there was debate about the absence of ethnic minorities in the elite regiments.)

The Times of May 20, 1915 reported that "nine coloured men from the Barbadoes" had been charged with secreting themselves aboard the Royal Mail steam packet "Danube".They wanted to get to the Front but were unable to enlist in Britain. It was thought that the War Office might agree to send them to a West Indian regiment.

The Times of April 30, 1919 reported a fight between US troops, including negroes, at Winchester (doubtless one of the many disturbances among troops of all nationalities casued by the slowness of demobilisation and repatriation).

An US Army camp at Swanscombe, Kent, was composed entirely on negroes, whose only needs were said to be clippers and alarm clocks.

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Here is a quote from the following website:

http://www.saintjohn.nbcc.nb.ca/~Heritage/...k/GreatWars.Htm

====================================================

No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, July 05, 1916 - September 15, 1920.

For two years Canadian Blacks petitioned the government for inclusion in the expeditionary forces. Many reasons were given why Blacks could enlist, yet few actually made it into uniform. Finally, in July, 1916, Blacks were given the opportunity to enlist in a Construction Battalion. This was the first and only all Black battalion in Canadian military history. The majority of men wre from Nova Scotia, with others from New Brunswick, Ontario, and Western Canada. Over 10% of Canada's Black population served during the war.

No. 2 Construction Battalion was commanded by Lt.Colonel D.H. Sutherland, a prominent Nova Scotia railway contractor. Headquartered in Pictou, and later Truro, over 250 men were sent to New Brunswick in early 1917 to load rails for the Grand Trunk Railway.

In March, 1917 the unit embarked aboard the troopship Scotland for Liverpool. Landing in England on April 8, the unit was shortly redesignated a Construction Company and underwent further training in road building, and building restoration.

On May 17, 1917 the unit crossed the Channel for France. Attached to No.5 District, Canadian Forestry Corps, the men of the unit were also engaged in road and railway construction.

After a year of support duty, the unit was finally authorized for service at the front. Understrength, the unit did not see full front service before the armistice was signed in November, 1918.

In December, 1918 the unit joined the Nova Scotia Regimental Depot in Bramshott Camp, England. In January, 1919 No.2 Construction Company returned to Halifax for demobilization..

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I`ve been pleasantly surprised at the number of coloured men who served in the British Army and who`ve apparently been well integrated. I do find it odd that they`re frequently referred to as black when often they`re hardly more black than most "white" folk. " Coloured" seems a misnomer, too. I`m a sort of off-pinky colour (on a good day), so I suppose technically I`m coloured! Only an albino stands a chance of being uncoloured.(Apart from his pink eyes). :rolleyes: Phil B

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Here is a quote from the following website:

http://www.saintjohn.nbcc.nb.ca/~Heritage/...k/GreatWars.Htm

====================================================

No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, July 05, 1916 - September 15, 1920.

For two years Canadian Blacks petitioned the government for inclusion in the expeditionary forces. Many reasons were given why Blacks could enlist, yet few actually made it into uniform. Finally, in July, 1916, Blacks were given the opportunity to enlist in a Construction Battalion. This was the first and only all Black battalion in Canadian military history. The majority of men wre from Nova Scotia, with others from New Brunswick, Ontario, and Western Canada. Over 10% of Canada's Black population served during the war.

No. 2 Construction Battalion was commanded by Lt.Colonel D.H. Sutherland, a prominent Nova Scotia railway contractor. Headquartered in Pictou, and later Truro, over 250 men were sent to New Brunswick in early 1917 to load rails for the Grand Trunk Railway.

In March, 1917 the unit embarked aboard the troopship Scotland for Liverpool. Landing in England on April 8, the unit was shortly redesignated a Construction Company and underwent further training in road building, and building restoration.

On May 17, 1917 the unit crossed the Channel for France. Attached to No.5 District, Canadian Forestry Corps, the men of the unit were also engaged in road and railway construction.

After a year of support duty, the unit was finally authorized for service at the front. Understrength, the unit did not see full front service before the armistice was signed in November, 1918.

In December, 1918 the unit joined the Nova Scotia Regimental Depot in Bramshott Camp, England. In January, 1919 No.2 Construction Company returned to Halifax for demobilization..

Did the Canadian forces have a D'jure segregation of forces like the US or were there simply social issues? It would suprize me greatly if they did. But it would be very interesting to know if Canadaian forces were, indeed, segregated.

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While I have not made a study of this, I would concur with Canadawwi that there was little interest in having blacks/coloureds in the CEF.

Surfing down through the previously provided website you will note some rather negative comments against the utilization of blacks in the CEF. Of course, I have seen a painting [Canadian War Museum?] of a wide range of ethnic groups in a patriot march - of course this might be some post-war propaganda.

On a related matter, there were a significant number of First Nations soldiers who volunteered and were accepted into combat service. Here is a website with some information ...

Native Veterans Association of Northwestern Ontario

Honour Roll of World War I (1914 -1918) Indian Soldiers of Robinson-Superior 1950 Treaty, Treaty #3, and Treaty #9 that served in World War I.

http://collections.ic.gc.ca/nativeterans/honourI.htm

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As I mentioned on another thread last year, the 26th New Brunswick Battalion's historian, Byron O'Leary, has traced over thirty Black and more than sixty First Nations (Indian) soldiers who served at the front with that unit.

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Here's something about native soldiers.

I also have a photo of a WWI war memorial for Southampton, Ontario that has several native men listed on it from the Saugeen Indian Reserve (1st Nation Chippewa).

Daniel Nawash, killed in WWI

(Another Nawash family member was killed in WW2).

post-2-1107200515.jpg

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john in minnesota

Here's a portion of the Eaton's MMG Battery panoramic photo before departing overseas. Photo is dated 1915. It would appear that this poor fellows job was "Mascot Tender" he is the only Black soldier in the unit and positioned well in front of the rest. I'd be very curious to know more of his identity/fate...

eaton.jpg

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per ardua per mare per terram
Although regulations have often been quoted as saying they fobade Black officers in the British Army (such as Tull) my reading has always interpreted it that it referred to foreign born nationals (including Black people) but did not apply to British born subjects such as Tull - so he wasn't in fact excluded as has sometimes been maintained. I would be happy to hear other views on this. Also I can't imagine any other action could be legal in 1914-1918.

The regulations were directed against ‘aliens,’ which meant that Jamaicans, Canadians etc were not discriminated against because they were subjects of the crown and not aliens. Therefore it was not only in favour of British born people, but anyone from the Empire. It came from the same fear, which gave rise to the Aliens Act, a fear of being ‘swamped’ by migrating East Europeans – sounds familiar.

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per ardua per mare per terram
Paul

I also recall hearing at some point during my studies that there were several black soldiers fighting during the English Civil War.

Cheers

Richard :)

Hi

I realise that this thread is primarily discussing the army, but I’d like to point out that the Royal Navy has a long tradition of integrated multi cultralism. For example the first Victoria Cross to a black man, was earned by a naval rating in 1857.

Fred

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Guest scarletto

Didnt the Royal Navy also not discriminate when promoting, if i remember there were a couple of black captains during the napoleonic wars?

Maybe we dont hear of black soldiers in the army of WW1, because at the time no one found it strange or thought it had to be commented on? Didnt they find a film with a black policeman circa 1900 in london?

The black community had certainly grown around port cities, since firstly our shameful time with slavery, and secondly from our merchant and royal navy who seemed to have no discrimination.

However i would love to see a book on this coming out

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  • 1 month later...
christine liava'a

I have recently come across the story of George Greig, of the Cook Islands, who was 1/4 scottish, 3/4 Cook Island Maori, and was in the Grenadier Guards in WW1!

Can anyone find any photos of him?

Apparently after the war he received a certificate from the Guards which stated he was the first Pacific Islander/ Polynesian/ or maybe just foreigner to serve with them.

He married an English war widow, and brought her back to NZ.

I am in touch with their son, and hope to get more information.

George Greig was the 2nd cousin of Hugh Greig of Fanning Island, who dived down and rescued the ends of the Pacific Cable at Fanning Island after the Nurnberg crew cut the cable and wrecked the cable station.

They were both grandsons of William Greig of Ayrshire who married a Cook Island girl in the 1860s.

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There is certainly a man with this name on the MICS:

Medal card of Greig, George

Corps Regiment No Rank

Grenadier Guards 29551 Guardsman

Not come across him in my own research before - thanks for flagging this up. If I come across any more on him I will let you know.

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Steven Broomfield

I have no real information on this, though I have seen several photos of black soldiers in the Great War. However, the recent fascinating BBC programmes on recently-discovered film from the early 20th Century, taken mostly in industrial cities, showed quite a few coloured men. I wonder if that horrible scourge, racism, actually was far less of a problem in working Britain at the time. After all, the ethos of Empire was 'improvement' - at that time, they weren't asylum-seekers: they were part of the Empire.

As for the army, well, coloured musiscians went back to the 18th Century at least (the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research has had a few items in the past), and most Regulars will have served with Indian and other coloured troops, so may well respect their abilities rather more than the average civvie.

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  • 5 weeks later...
christine liava'a
I have recently come across the story of George Greig, of the Cook Islands, who was 1/4 scottish, 3/4 Cook Island Maori, and was in the Grenadier Guards in WW1!

Can anyone find any photos of him?

Apparently after the war he received a certificate from the Guards which stated he was the first Pacific Islander/ Polynesian/ or maybe just foreigner to serve with them.

He married an English war widow, and brought her back to NZ.

I am in touch with their son, and hope to get more information.

George Greig was the 2nd cousin of Hugh Greig of Fanning Island, who dived down and rescued the ends of the Pacific Cable at Fanning Island after the Nurnberg crew cut the cable and wrecked the cable station.

They were both grandsons of William Greig of Ayrshire who married a Cook Island girl in the 1860s.

I have now received some photos of him. Here is one of him taken while he was convalescing, with a Scottish soldier. George Greig is the one standing

post-554-1114542463.jpg

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See also my recent thread on Private William Mitchell, a possible black soldier who died at Gallipoli with 5th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers

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"The Transvaal War Album" consists of photographs of military units serving in the S African War in 1899 and 1900. An officer's group of the Northumberland Fusiliers (I don't have the book to hand so can't say which Bn.) shows a Captain Isaac who is evidently of mixed race. I managed to find another picture of this group (sorry but I can't remember where; it may have been in "The Transvaal in War and Peace") without headgear, where his features were even clearer.

I was naturally intrigued but all I could find without visiting the PRO was that Capt. Isaac was wounded and seems to have continued to serve after the war. To be a black officer at that time was unheard of, let alone to serve in a "white man's war", yet here was one, with no comment offered in the caption. Had the captain been captured, the Boers would almost certainly have shot him outright. The Northumberland Fusiliers had (imho) probably the best fighting record of any infantry unit in S Africa, so he would have had to be strong in every sense to hold his own.

There is a fascinating story here, if anyone cares to research it!

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Unfortunately, Can't take the time to read through all the posts in this thread, so I'll hope this hasn't been covered already.

The Somers Isles (alias Bermuda) is the oldest surviving English colony, and the second permanent colony established (inadverantly, as an extension of the Virginia Company's settlement at Jamestown, in 1609, with the Company's charter being extended to include the islands in 1612).

The majority of settlers in the first century were indentured servants from southern England, particularly from Lincolnshire. Native Americans began to be shipped in in large numbers, sold as slaves, in the aftermath of English wars of conquest in New England, as well as from Spanish territories, further south. With the capture of Spanish territories, such as Jamaica, Spanish-speaking blacks began to settle in the Somers Isles as indentured servants, also. To these were added numbers of Black slaves, and Irish and Scottish POWS, and others, ethnically cleansed from Ireland, following Cromwell's invasions. By the end of the 17th Century, 'Anglo' whites (to borrow a current US term), were still in the majority. By the end of the next century, blacks must have been as numerous. This is despite a lack of any major immigration after the 17th Century, until Portuguese immigration began in the 1840s. The reasons for the increasing ratio of Blacks appear to be partly due to the disappearance of Native Americans and Irish from the demographic. These two groups merged with the islands Blacks. A certain amount of the White Anglos children would also have had non-White Anglo parents. As the new multi-racial group appeared, it was labelled Black, and as 'Blacks' and the remaining whites mingled, their children, too, were known as Black. This, combined with large-scale emigration (10,000 people emigrated from ermuda, prior to US independence, settling whole towns in the North American colonies, establishing the Bahamas, and settling in other areas), which undoubtedly reduced the White population at a drastically higher rate than the Black, left Whites in a slim majority. Large scale West Indian emigration, throughout the 20th Century, has given Blacks a majority, today, although Black West Indians, in Bermuda, tend, even after two or three generations, stand out both due to their different ancestries, and due to different cultures.

Well, I'd better stop that before I go to far off on a tangent!

After the Crimean War, it was realised that the British Army needed to have some kind of standing force on Britain, ready to defend against attack, or to launch a Crimea like expidition, expiditiously. This took decades to effect, largelly due to the Government's unwillingness to raise the funds required to increase the size of the Army. They tried to achieve the effect by gredeploying troops from the Empire. In many places, garrisons could not be reduced due to fear of native insurrection. Quiet places like Bermuda, therefore, were slated for reduction. Bermuda, however, was the Head Quarters of the Royal Navy in the Western Atlantic. Removing regular toops, there, could only be done by replacing them with Volunteers. This lead to the forming of two units, in about 1892, the Bermuda Militia Artillery and the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps.

Although created as part of the Imperial garrison, and embodied to fill this role in both World Wars, the units both sent of drafts in both conflicts. The BVRC was effectively restricted to Whites (by hinging entry into it to membership in a Rifle Club. Private clubs could disriminate in their membership more easily than a military unit created under act of the Colonial Parliament). The BMA ranks were almost wholly Black. The BVRC sent two contingents to the 1 Lincolnshire Regiment, in the Great War. The first of these, raised in 1914, and reaching France the following June, was supposedly the first Colonial Volunteer unit to reach the Front. The BMA, a garrison artillery unit (which wore standard Royal Artillery uniform and badge, in Bermuda, without a distinguishing cap badge), sent two drafts to the larger Royal Garrison Artillery. There obviously wasn't much for the RGA to do, on garrisons, in that war, and it sent large deployments to the Front, both to operate train, and other large guns, and to add to the logistics manpower supplying the RFA with ammunition.

This was where the Bermudian drafts served, taking a vital part in operations which included Vimy Ridge.

The BMA contingents, by the way, were commanded by a White Bermudian Major named Tommy Dill, whose grandson is the actor Michael Douglas, in case you've seen him advertising for Bermuda Tourism.

I've culled quite a few photos which are on my website, if anyone is curious, though the site is still a long way from complete.

RGA (Bermuda Contingent) Photos WWI

BMA Photos Page 2

Also, Black Bermudians served in other units during the War. My still incomplete list of Islanders who served in other units (than the 1 Lincolns/BVRC, RGA/BMA) includes a number of Blacks, seperated on a post War list I used in compiling my own. some of the other servicemen listed may have been Black, also, but who knows...? Anyway, this is page two of the list, with 'coloured' servicemen listed at the bottom.

List of Islanders in Other Great Wat Units

My main index, by the way, is:

Welcome To The Somers Isles

And the naval, military and air force index is:

Pride Of The Somers Isles

The military pages are nearest completion, and most extensive, with many period newspaper articles from the Great War, a history of the defunct Militia (which gasped its last during the American War of 1812), and lots of other material on the Imperial war machine from that colony's perspective.

The Regular and Volunteer Army in TSI

7494af2f1039eb5960a7d74627.jpg

RGA gunners in France.

Sean Pol

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I have now received some photos of him. Here is one of him taken while he was convalescing, with a Scottish soldier. George Greig is the one standing

Christine - you can clearly see the Grenadier Guards badge on this man, which confirms with the MIC details I posted above. If I get a chance, I will look this man up at the NA next week.

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Didnt the Royal Navy also not discriminate when promoting, if i remember there were a couple of black captains during the napoleonic wars?

There was certainly one, namely John Perkins. He joined the RN at Jamaica in 1775 as a pilot extra, a position that means that he was an experienced local master or mate. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in command of the brig Endeavour in 1783, advancing to Commander in 1797 & Post Captain in 1800, commanding the frigates Arab & Tartar. he retired in 1805 due to ill health & died in 1812 & spent his entire career in the Carribean. My source is "The Wooden World" by N.A.M. Roger (page 272).

Martin

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  • 3 weeks later...

Short biog & pic of Walter Tull, mentioned above, is in today's Sunday Times Magazine, in a feature on British sportsmen in WWI

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