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Remembered Today:

Black soldiers in WW1 British Army


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  • 2 weeks later...

Just reading Peter Hart's 1918 A Very British Victory. This section reminded of this thread.

Paperback ed. P.356

2nd Lt William Tobey. 16th Bn Lancashire Fusiliers. (During the Battle of Amiens)

" I said to the men, ' I want three volunteers to go an carry Corporal Cave back here!'

Three men stepped forward, one of which was the only black man in the battalion."

Now I may be reading too much between the lines here, adding 1 + 1 and getting 3 but I

think the use of the word 'only' here is significant. Yes, it confirms that his battalion had

one black soldier in the ranks but it also implies, to me anyhow, that black soldiers served

in other battalions too.

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The other side of the coin is a draft memo prepared for the War Cabinet, at Lloyd George's behest in April 1917, and quoted in Gary Mead's biography of Haig, stating that the War Cabinet, "should keep the War Office short [of men] to compel the soldiers to adopt tactics that will reduce their waste of manpower. Further they desire the War Office to work out their own salvation by a careful substitution of elderly and partially fit men and coloured men for fit men in all services behind the lines"

This seems to suggest 'institutional racism' at the highest political level and that the majority of 'coloured' men were expected to be employed in non-combatant roles e.g. construction and supply, while those in front line battalions were the minority.

Ken

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Is the trainee lorry driver on the right black, or of mixed race?

...If so, it is the first one i have seen.

He looks so to me.

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This HLI battalion had at least two in the ranks......

dinner.jpg

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Remembering Today: Rifleman BIRBHAL GHARTI, 4801, 8th Gurkha Rifles, who died 21st March 1917, Zehrensdorf Cemetery, Berlin. Rest in Peace.

A wide range of people fought under British command in WWI: at sea (in the Royal Navy and Mercantile Marine), on land and in the air. Some fought in the front line, others behind the lines. The majority of 'coloured' men fought in the front line, if you include the Indian Army. In the battalions of the British Army there were numerous 'coloured' men who fought on the front line, as has been observed in this thread.

The British Empire was not the first, nor the last to have a core of racism. Classical scholars, were inspired by Greek states such as Sparta, which practiced vicious superiority of their own group against the other. Imperial contemporaries of the British included the Japanese et al. Imperialist tend to emphasise the superiority of their own group over others.

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Perhaps a tad more than a 'core of racism' e.g.

"Regulations for the special entry of officers into the RNAS (1916)

7. Candidates must be of pure European descent, and the sons of natural British born subjects. In doubtful cases the burden of proof will rest upon the candidate."

Ken

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Hello all,

I posted this photo on the uniforms section in a thread on Kitchener blue uniforms. These were later dished out to POWs. The photo shows a black Gordon Highlander in a German POW camp. I wonder how many black Highlanders were taken prisoner.... One for Paul Reed to research methinks! Could be a bit of hat swapping for the photo of course, but interesting nonetheless. He does however seem to know how to wear it.

post-7141-1269212388.jpg

Regards

Tocemma

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Perhaps a tad more than a 'core of racism' e.g.

"Regulations for the special entry of officers into the RNAS (1916)

7. Candidates must be of pure European descent, and the sons of natural British born subjects. In doubtful cases the burden of proof will rest upon the candidate."

Ken

These regulations, and similar, have been discussed on this forum before: where it has been argued that if applied they would have prevented the commissioning of former (and future) First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill one of the instigators of the RNAS. The regulations should have excluded the commissioning of any Jewish officers, especially of those children of those who escaped from the pogroms who could not claim to be the sons of natural British born subjects.

I don’t know the family trees of the following RNAS officers (let alone every officer), but I suspect they may not all have been the sons of natural British born subjects. They are from New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and Australia and were, as far as I’m aware, all British subject just as they would have been if they had come from Bermuda, Jamaica, or India.

Harold Francis Beamish

Raymond Collishaw

Edwin Tufnell Hayne

Robert Alexander Little

Indra Lal Roy, from India, was a commissioned officer in the RFC and RAF. Walter Tull, mentioned in this thread, was a commissioned army officer. Neither of them were of pure European descent. Possibly you’re not aware that there have been commissioned Royal Navy officers from at least the 18th century who were not of pure European descent.

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Indra Lal Roy, from India, was a commissioned officer in the RFC and RAF. Walter Tull, mentioned in this thread, was a commissioned army officer. Neither of them were of pure European descent. Possibly you’re not aware that there have been commissioned Royal Navy officers from at least the 18th century who were not of pure European descent.

Forgive me, I was under the impression this classic thread was discussing whether Black Soldiers in the WW1 British Army were integrated or separated, not the Indian Army nor the 2 million or so Colonial Troops from around the Empire, these retained their own structure and chain of command and therefore by definition were 'separated'.

One or two examples and photographs of black soldiers (some it must be said a bit dubious) were being produced as evidence of integration. Those original sources where it is even considered (for example from Hansard to the War Cabinet through memoir and commentary) that both practice and policy at the highest political and military level did not support integration, indeed there are examples that this official separation continued unto death (Etaples).

I don't know how many officers served in the British Army but over 39,000 officers were killed in the Great War,and in 1920 it was claimed 20.000 former officers were unemployed and 33,000 were still suffering from wounds, so that's nearly 100,000, so let's be conservative and say of the estimated 7 million British men who were in uniform 250,000 were commissioned; by the end of the War the majority, like Walter Tull, from the ranks.

However brave and charismatic one single black officer may have been, if he is the only example that can be cited of integration in the WW1 British Army I suggest that is stronger evidence for an officially sanctioned policy of separation rather than integration.

Ken

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Martin Bennitt
Just reading Peter Hart's 1918 A Very British Victory. This section reminded of this thread.

Paperback ed. P.356

2nd Lt William Tobey. 16th Bn Lancashire Fusiliers. (During the Battle of Amiens)

" I said to the men, ' I want three volunteers to go an carry Corporal Cave back here!'

Three men stepped forward, one of which was the only black man in the battalion."

Now I may be reading too much between the lines here, adding 1 + 1 and getting 3 but I

think the use of the word 'only' here is significant. Yes, it confirms that his battalion had

one black soldier in the ranks but it also implies, to me anyhow, that black soldiers served

in other battalions too.

I may be reading too much between the lines here as well, but I wondered why Tobey should mention the fact at all -- unless there is a bit of racism and he is implying surprise that a black soldier should volunteer for a risky job.

cheers Martin B

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christine liava'a

I don’t know the family trees of the following RNAS officers (let alone every officer), but I suspect they may not all have been the sons of natural British born subjects. They are from New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and Australia and were, as far as I’m aware, all British subject just as they would have been if they had come from Bermuda, Jamaica, or India.

Harold Francis Beamish

......................

Why do you suspect that Harold Beamish may not have been the son of a a natural born British Subject?

Judging from various pieces of evidence here in NZ, he was related to a sheep farming family in Hawkes Bay, and attended an Anglican private school, Wanganui Collegiate, which was quite expensive. He is likely to have been of English descent.

Christine

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One or two examples and photographs of black soldiers (some it must be said a bit dubious) were being produced as evidence of integration.

I don't know whether this refers (whether inter alia or not) to my post 112. All I was saying was that this man with black ancestry (so it appears to me) served in the British Army. I thought it quite remarkable that he should have been an officer in a British regiment in the Victorian Army.

To suggest that black soldiers were integrated, as we understand the term (by which, before anyone asks, I mean treated no differently to white soldiers), into the British Army in the Great War would be naive in the extreme, a trap I doubt any forum member would fall into. I'm not even sure whether it is entirely true today.

W.

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I may be reading too much between the lines here as well, but I wondered why Tobey should mention the fact at all -- unless there is a bit of racism and he is implying surprise that a black soldier should volunteer for a risky job.

cheers Martin B

I think Tobey reported the account this way because having black soldiers in the fighting battalions was definitely a very rare exception to the rule and not because of racism on his part.

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I don’t know the family trees of the following RNAS officers (let alone every officer), but I suspect they may not all have been the sons of natural British born subjects. They are from New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and Australia and were, as far as I’m aware, all British subject just as they would have been if they had come from Bermuda, Jamaica, or India.

Harold Francis Beamish

......................

Why do you suspect that Harold Beamish may not have been the son of a a natural born British Subject?

Judging from various pieces of evidence here in NZ, he was related to a sheep farming family in Hawkes Bay, and attended an Anglican private school, Wanganui Collegiate, which was quite expensive. He is likely to have been of English descent.

Christine

Christine, my uncertainty only comes from whether he was one generation away from being born and similarly the others on the list. It seems to me that the strict interpretation, if it was followed, of the regulations quoted would have meant that if he was for example the grandson of British born subjects he would have been prevented from being an officer in the RNAS.

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Forgive me, I was under the impression this classic thread was discussing whether Black Soldiers in the WW1 British Army were integrated or separated, not the Indian Army nor the 2 million or so Colonial Troops from around the Empire, these retained their own structure and chain of command and therefore by definition were 'separated'...

Ken

Yes this thread is discussing Black Soldiers in the WW1 British Army however you introduced regulations pertaining to the Royal Naval Air Service so I thought that you had widened it to the Royal Navy and attendent units. I gave an example of an Indian officer commissioned into the British Army; the Royal Flying Corps was a corps in the British Army, not an Indian or colonial unit. I gave just one example, Walter Tull, of a black commissioned officer; if you search the forum you will find others who served in the WW1 British Army. Tull started out integrated in a WW1 British Army regiment, he was no alone in being so; nor was he the first black man to serve in a regiment of the Army. The first documented example in the English Army served Henry VII and Henry VIII! Black and other ethnic minority British Subjects living in the UK could and did join the WW1 British Army and were thus integrated. It is the subject of ongoing research, which this thread only represents a tiny fragment.

There were great differences between how the regular Indian army was deployed and also the various units of colonial troops; there were also differences in how they were all referred to. There were also great differences as to how the labour units were treated and deployed. You mentioned coloured soldiers serving behind the lines so I thought it apt to highlight the man Remebered for the day. The Gurkhas do not fit that category, neither do many other units who were found on the front line.

You have given figures for how many officers there were in the British Army. How many Black people do you think were in the United Kingdom at the same time? That is largely the pool that would have had to be drawn upon both for intigrating soldiers in the ranks and from whom officers could be promoted.

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christine liava'a
Christine, my uncertainty only comes from whether he was one generation away from being born and similarly the others on the list. It seems to me that the strict interpretation, if it was followed, of the regulations quoted would have meant that if he was for example the grandson of British born subjects he would have been prevented from being an officer in the RNAS.

OK. But remember, all persons of UK ancestry in the British colonies could describe themselves as natural born British subjects, since their land of birth was a British colony.

Here is a piece about him. In it, he is stated to have been born in NZ, but I am sure that if asked, he would have considered himself British, and would have expected others to consider him such as well.

http://www.nzfpm.co.nz/article.asp?id=beamish

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Christina Holstein

If no one has mentioned it before, there is a recent book about Walter Tull by Phil Vasili. It's on Amazon.

'Walter Tull (1888-1918, Officer, Footballer: All the guns in France couldn't wake me'

Christina

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OK. But remember, all persons of UK ancestry in the British colonies could describe themselves as natural born British subjects, since their land of birth was a British colony.

Here is a piece about him. In it, he is stated to have been born in NZ, but I am sure that if asked, he would have considered himself British, and would have expected others to consider him such as well.

Christine, I know that they were British subjects in British colonies. I raised it only because some people have interpreted the regulation quoted as meaning that natural born British subjects as those born in the British Isles, in which case grandsons living in these colonies in theory should have been excluded. In reality they were not, they were commissioned if they fit the bill. Millions of natural born British subjects, from the UK as well as the colonies, were not commissioned during in the war.

Beamish was selected at random while I was looking for a New Zealand officer who served in the RNAS and that section was written with tongue in cheek.

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Hello all,

I posted this photo on the uniforms section in a thread on Kitchener blue uniforms. These were later dished out to POWs. The photo shows a black Gordon Highlander in a German POW camp. I wonder how many black Highlanders were taken prisoner.... One for Paul Reed to research methinks! Could be a bit of hat swapping for the photo of course, but interesting nonetheless. He does however seem to know how to wear it.

Regards

Tocemma

Paul - thanks for alerting me to this via PM.

It's an interesting one, and I agree he does look like he is wearing his own cap rather than another's. I haven't - as yet - come across any Black soldiers in the GH, and this is only the second one I know of taken POW, but I am finding names all the time, so may well come across it sometime.

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Hello Paul,

No problem. There was also seemingly a single black soldier serving with the 2/16th Queens Westminster Rifles. I have a Battalion photo taken on the eve of departure for France. He is shown on this photo. I will scan and post.

A WW1 veteran I used to visit told me that there was a black soldier in his Company, (Poplar and Stepney Rifles, 17th Londons) who was very popular with the men, so in that case at least, integrated to a degree. He was however rather unsurprisingly for the time, nicknamed 'Darkie' I have a video recording of this conversation and will have a listen, as he gave the soldiers full name.

I'm fascinated by the black Gordon Highlander though. His must be a very interesting story. I wonder how the Germans reacted?

Regards

Tocemma

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  • 2 weeks later...
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According to the "From War to Windrush" exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, London the black population in the UK was estimated to be 15,000, in 1939.

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