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DirtyDick

Black soldiers in WW1 British Army

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aodhdubh

Definitely off topic, but someone mentioned the English Civil War, and I'll not go that far back. The English, subsequently British, colony of Bermuda was, for much of its history, entirely dependent on maritime trades, including particularly shipbuilding and the carrying trade, as well as privateering, but also activities enabled by the large merchant fleet, such as salt raking in the Turks. Although it was initially the more successful of the Virginia Company's two settlements, prior to US independence, Bermuda was of little consequence to the UK government, having no natural resources but for Bermuda cedar, and being rather remote from everywhere. It's position astride the main shipping route from the Americas back to Europe did not become useful 'til US independence cost Britain all of her continental bases between Nova Scotia and Spanish Florida (the Bahamas, after Spain ceded Florida). After that, Bermuda became the headquarters, base, and dockyard of the North America and West Indies Squadron of the Royal Navy, with a large regular army garrison to guard the naval facilities. Prior to that, Bermuda's defence had been left primarily in the hands of her own militias and privateers. The Bermuda Militia had operated from the official date of settlement in 1612, 'til the end of the American War of 1812. It was organised on a parish basis. The first units formed were the standing complements of the various forts built from 1612 onwards. These served as coastal artillery batteries, and were garrisoned by artillerymen, who maintained a constant guard and trained as often as possible to maintain their skills. The infantry and mounted militia units met annually for training, but were embodied during times of war, or internal emergency. The English militia system was extended to other colonies, as well. As in England, all able-bodied adult males were required to serve in the militia. From the late 17th Century onwards, the militia suffered from the fact that a third of Bermuda's manpower was at sea at any given time, with most of the rest preparing for sea, or having just returned. Bermuda's dependence on its sailors was such that, at the turn of the 18th and 19th Centuries, when all other British seamen were liable to impressment, Bermudians were exempt.But I digress...an interesting feature of Bermuda's militia was that all able bodied males were required to serve, whether free or enslaved. In the 17th Century, Anglo-Bermudians were in the majority, but there were minorities of formerly Spanish Blacks from the West Indies, who had immigrated under indenture, smaller numbers of Black slaves from various sources, Native American slaves ethnically cleansed from New England and other parts of North America, often following conflicts such as the Pequot War and Metacomet's War, Irish prisoners-of-war and ethnically cleansed civilians of both sexes, shipped out of Ireland after the Cromwellian invasion and sold in Bermuda, and smaller numbers of Scottish POWs, following Cromwell's invasion of Scotland.The Irish proved particularly troublesome, and their importation was banned after the uncovering of a plot in which Irish and black slaves planned to kill all of the English in Bermuda, and in which the Irish were judged to be the main culprits. Following this, orders were given which included disarming the slaves of militia weapons.Despite that period of emergency, slaves served in Bermuda's militia throughout its existence (it was allowed to lapse after 1815 due to the build up of a regular army garrison, much to the chagrin of the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies).The reason I mention this is that Coloured Bermudians (as the various minority groups and part of the English demographic had blended together to become by the middle of the 18th Century), whether free or enslaved, also made up a significant proportion of Bermuda's merchant seamen, sailing all over the Atlantic and beyond. Sometimes they made up most of the crews of Bermudian vessels, and even served as officers. A famous example is the Privateer "Regulator", during the America Rebellion, whose crew was almost entirely made up of coloured slaves. Captured and taken into Boston, Massachusetts, the slaves were offered freedom in the rebel colonies, but instead chose to be treated as Prisoners of War. They were sent to New York as such on the sloop "Duxbury", but seized the vessel and sailed it back to Bermuda.British law required that crewmen of British vessels (including those of the colonies) be British subjects, something which slaves were not considered to be in most of the colonies. The issue came to a head when the Royal Navy arrested a Bermudian vessel because most of its crew were slaves. When this went to trial, however, the Bermudians argued that the service of enslaved Bermudians in the militia qualified them as British subjects, and the court upheld this view.I guess I did make it to the Civil War, after all.

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James A Pratt III

The book "Swept Channels" mentions a old 'colored' man serving on a minesweeping trawler.

#26 Bullard did not shoot down a single enemy aircraft according to the aerodrome.com. There accounts of him with one victory and one probable. Also note he was not the only black airman of WW I. There was an officer in the Ottoman Navy og black/arab decent who was a pilot but didn't shot down any planes. There was also in the Imperial russian air service a IM gunner who was from Tahiti who was Black who is credited with one victory and one probable.. Nothing else is known about him. Note: St Petersburg Russia pre WW I was a very cosmopolitan place and the french did have a lot of busness interests there. Also there were a few blacks that did live and work there mainly as servants. The tsar had a few as door openers ect.They include both americans and British from the West Indies. One later worked for the Cheka (Soviet secret police) as an executioner.. I hope this is of some help/interest.

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mhifle

I found mention of a black soldier with the British Army in Dublin at the end of the 1916 Easter Rising.

BUREAU OF MILITARY HISTORY, : STATEMENT BY WITNESS. DOCUMENT NO. W.S. 1768.

Witness: Andrew McDonnell,

"St. Thérese", 6, Glenayr Road, Rathgar, Dublin.

0/C, Dublin No. 2 Brigade, 1921-1922.. Subject. "E" Coy., 3rd Battn., Dublin Brigade, 1915-1918;

'We were left in the stalls on the damp ground for some days. Meals were a movable feast: some days we got food and on others we got none. We were taken to the toilet under armed escort. This was at the end of the road near the gate leading on to Simonscourt Road. We were objects of interest to the British troops who Were in the stables opposite and came to grin at us over the half door of the stall. One of the British soldiers was black, a negro; and his broad grin was most annoying until a well aimed tobacco spit made him give the half door a wide berth. We had an inspection from a young British officer who said he would do something for us and dry straw as bedding would be first call. He told us he had been in charge of a prisoner-of-war camp in England and knew the ropes. We hoped so!'

Regards Mark

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Guest Yellowflower

Does anyone have any idea of where black soldiers from the British colony of Bermuda returned to in France after WW1 ended? I am trying to trace where my great uncle was "repatriated" to France. His military records show that he was discharged with in good health and was repatriated to France. It indicates the port in England where he was to cross to France. There are no family stories (other than that he existed and where he lived on the island) of what happened once he left.

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aodhdubh

Does anyone have any idea of where black soldiers from the British colony of Bermuda returned to in France after WW1 ended? I am trying to trace where my great uncle was "repatriated" to France. His military records show that he was discharged with in good health and was repatriated to France. It indicates the port in England where he was to cross to France. There are no family stories (other than that he existed and where he lived on the island) of what happened once he left.

The Bermuda Contingent(s) of the RGA, as well as the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps contingent(s) (other than R.C. Earl, who had been a Colour Sergeant with the First Contingent of 1915, and had been commissioned, later becoming the Commanding Officer of the BVRC...he went to Ireland in 1918 with the 1 Lincolns...it's possible other members of the BVRC Contingents did, too) both returned to Bermuda following the war. There were no coloured men in the BVRC, so I'll ignore them. The BC RGA returned to Bermuda in July, 1919. They were furloughed until 11th of August, when they were disembodied. They could not RTU as the Bermuda Militia Artillery (and the BVRC) had actually been disembodied on the 31st of December, 1918. Some of the soldiers signed on again as regulars (there should have been two RGA companies manning various coastal artillery batteries around Bermuda at that point), and the rest were discharged. The BMA and BVRC were both built back up again before long. As part of the post-war budgetary cutbacks and the Great Depression, the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers withdrew their regulars from the Bermuda Garrison in 1928, with their roles passing entirely to the BMA and the Bermuda Volunteer Engineers (formed in 1931 to operate defence electric lights at the batteries...they also later assumed the responsibilities of the Corps of Signals in Bermuda in 1940).

As I recollect, the officer commanding the BC RGA, Major Thomas Melville Dill (grandfather of actor Michael Douglas...and not coloured), was given another assignement within the RGA in France as most of his men were split up and scattered where needed, and I think he returned separately...I can check the date....he appears to have returned on the 30th of December, 1918...he had handed over command of the BMA to a subordinate in 1916 to go to the Western Front with the 1st BMA contingent, but there was no parade from the BMA to greet his return owing to the disbandment of the unit, which must already have taken place, though its disembodied status would not commence 'til the following day.

I would not have thought that any BCRGA enlistedmen who were still serving with the contingent(s) at the end of the war would have been discharged locally, in Britain or France, although some may have chosen to return there...I don't really know, though. Lieutenant-Colonel (the former Major) T.M. Dill later toured with his wife parts of France where he had served during the war. He noted that he while they were standing in the gateway of the Hotel du Nord, while travelling through Maine and Normandy in the direction of Rouen, that he heard a voice calling "Major Dill, Major Dill!" (or...as he wrote it..."Majaire Deel, Majaire Deel!"). This turned out to be someone called Latham, from Spanish Point in Pembroke parish, Bermuda, who had served with him in the BMA (BCRGA)...I only see one Latham listed in the two BMA contingents...Gunner E. Latham, who definitely returned to Bermuda after the war. Latham told Dill he had been living in France since the end of the war, and that another former comrade, Harry "Ginger Blue" Fox, (who I see listed: Gunner H. Fox, returned to Bermuda on the 1st of July, 1919) was living there as well. I do not know if any other BCRGA members made their way back to France tolive, but hope that information is useful.

The only BCRGA enlistedmen I show who were not killed-in-action, or did not otherwise die in service (or go missing) or return to Bermuda, are: Gunner F.B. Caines (discharged in England); Gunner H. Durrant ("detained in France"...?); Gunner A.R. Lambert (discharged in England); Gunner E.H. O'Brien (discharged in England); Gunner J.A. Symonds (a mystery man...some official sources say he returned to Bermuda, others that he died in the war, but he was definitely never seen again); Gunner R.A. Wellman (deserted...I'm not sure that that can be said for certain as he has never been seen again, and could as easily be one of many unknown soldiers who gave their lives); Gunner E. Swan was discharged on the 8th of February, 1918, but no mention of where. No mention of the dates of return of the six officers, other than Major Dill. Several enlistemen returned to Bermuda prior to the end of the war, presumably medically discharged. I have another more updated list somewhere about, so I'll check that later for any further information.

Incidently, Dr. Edward Harris of the Bermuda Maritime Museum writes often on Bermudian military history, and other areas of Bermudian heritage, in the Royal Gazette, and recently wrote of the Bermuda Contingent RGA...if interested, here is the link:

http://www.royalgazette.com/article/20140802/ISLAND/140809996#

Edited by aodhdubh

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aodhdubh

Deciding who is non-European and who is European was something done by records, certain knowledge, or eye...depending on which was most convenient for the judge. My uncles were conscripted but never served...their more obviously coloured father (himself with three "European" grandparents) meant they could not be sent to the BVRC and their fair skin and fair hair meant that sending them to the BMA was something racists could not condone, either....that was much later than the Great War. I recently read the story of another member of the "all-white" BVRC, who proved not to be as white as assumed.

A voyage to a coronation
Dr Edward Harris

http://www.royalgazette.com/article/20130629/ISLAND/706299993&source=RSS

Of course, the majority of Bermuda's "blacks" (people of African descent) have as much or more European ancestry, but as long as any non-European ancestry is evident, they will be recorded as black. The old term coloured, being it was used in Bermuda for anyone not "wholly-European" in ancestry, was probably more accurate in being more inclusive.

Edited by aodhdubh

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aodhdubh

In my first post in this thread, several pages back, I mentioned a few coloured Bermudians who had served in other British Army units than the BMA/BC RGA...one of these was Lawson Williams (good Welch name like Williams probably helped) of the 3 Welsh Regiment...I recently saw a photographh of him in another article by Raymond Hainey of the Royal Gazette...just searching for it...

This is the article:

Bermuda’s Great War sacrifices remembered

http://www.royalgazette.com/article/20140805/NEWS/140809922

The photo of Lawson Williams is one of many at the top of the article (click no. 9...he is in the centre...a group photograph of BVRC soldiers is on the left, and for some reason there is a photograph of Bermudian airwomen from the Second World War on the right)..or, here it is below:EP-140809922.jpg

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aodhdubh

Having learnt again how to properly post a photograph from a weblink, here is the photograph I tried to display a few posts above, of the Bermuda Contingent Royal Garrison Artillery in France.

AR-140809996.jpg

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aodhdubh

Deciding who is non-European and who is European was something done by records, certain knowledge, or eye...depending on which was most convenient for the judge. My uncles were conscripted but never served...their more obviously coloured father (himself with three "European" grandparents) meant they could not be sent to the BVRC and their fair skin and fair hair meant that sending them to the BMA was something racists could not condone, either....that was much later than the Great War. I recently read the story of another member of the "all-white" BVRC, who proved not to be as white as assumed.

A voyage to a coronation
Dr Edward Harris

http://www.royalgazette.com/article/20130629/ISLAND/706299993&source=RSS

Of course, the majority of Bermuda's "blacks" (people of African descent) have as much or more European ancestry, but as long as any non-European ancestry is evident, they will be recorded as black. The old term coloured, being it was used in Bermuda for anyone not "wholly-European" in ancestry, was probably more accurate in being more inclusive.

A couple of photographs relating to Lance-Corporal Thomas Roland Spicer, the Bermudian descendant of slaves, serving in the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps. the photograph was taken in London in 1902, when he was part of the detachment sent for the coronation of King Edward VII.

EP-706299993.jpg

BVRC_Edward_VII_Coronation_Contingent.jp

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Guest blackpresence

This thread has so many missing images now, if any of the original contributors read this, could you perhaps update the images? Many thanks. Great information on this page!

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Carnbo Lad

post-102825-0-35423100-1458317398_thumb.Hi,

Please see the attached photo which may be of interest

Gordon


A close up of the cap badge

post-102825-0-06092200-1458317688_thumb.

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Knotty

Looks suspiciously like The Buffs

John

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SallyMarieB

Hi, I think the man mentioned in the OP - a black soldier in the Hampshire Regiment training at Gosport might be my great great grandfather - Lance Corporal Joseph Alexander Wilmerdinge Peterson. I would desperately love to see the pic if possible - we only have one image of him so for their to be another would be amazing! I hope OP sees this as I note the thread is an old one.  

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Michelle Young

It's three years ago since the OP was last on the forum. When you have made two posts you can use private messenger to try to contact them.

Michelle 

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SallyMarieB

Thanks Alan, 

 

By coincidence I grew up in the house next door to where he used to live but we didn't know it at the time!

 

I'm planning trip to the Hampshire Regiment Museum next week to see if they have the picture the OP mentioned :) 

 

Sally 

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Alan24
On 11/11/2018 at 19:35, SallyMarieB said:

Thanks Alan, 

 

By coincidence I grew up in the house next door to where he used to live but we didn't know it at the time!

 

I'm planning trip to the Hampshire Regiment Museum next week to see if they have the picture the OP mentioned :)

 

Sally 

 

Hi Sally, did your relative have any connection to Winchester?

When I saw your post naming your relative as Peterson it reminded me of an anecdote in the book 'Winchester Voices' by Sarah Bussey.

The book is a collection of transcripts of conversations with older residents from some years ago. There is mention of a family named Peters and I wondered if this should have read Peterson? These anecdotes are told by someone born in 1908 so would date very much around 1914. I've not managed to locate the Peters family in the 1911 census so am wondering if it should be Peterson? At least you might be able to confirm no connection at all.

 

Extracts below.

 

Regards

 

Alan.

 

 

peters 2.JPG

peters 1.JPG

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