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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

British West Indies Regiment

Sandie Hayes

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Not sure this should go here or in Soldiers but here goes...

Ernest Quarless, an ancestor of mine by marriage, was born in Liverpool to black parents of Barbadian & Jamaican decent.

He served in the British West Indian Regiment, Private 15163.

Was this regiment of his own choosing or because of his racial origin?

His medals are recorded in roll COL/112B 12. Does these mean there was a separate roll for 'coloured' soldiers?

Did Britain bring men from the 'colonies' to fight in the Great War as they did in WW2? or

Was the British West Indies Regiment made up of men already living here?

He was awarded the BW + V medals which, I'm told, he claimed at the same time as claiming his WW2 medals.

There's more to Ernest but I'll post that some other time.


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At the commencement of the Great War there were two Regular Army battalions of Caribbean infantry. They were titled the West India Regiment (abbreviated to WIR), and were mostly recruited in Jamaica. They were called Imperial Service units as Britain funded them and used them worldwide. In 1914 one battalion was in Sierra Leone, West Africa and the other was in the West Indies.

Once war started many other black Caribbeans wished to join up, but not into the West India Regiment. This attitude was apparently based on perceptions of Jamaicans held by the other West Indians.

So a new regiment was formed for war time service only - the British West Indies Regiment (abbreviated to BWIR). Ernest joined this regiment.

Battalions of the BWIR served in France & Flanders, Egypt, Palestine, Italy and East Africa.

Caribbean men like Ernest did a fine job but because of the social attitudes of the times they were not always appreciated by those in power, and in many cases they were put onto labouring or sentry duties rather than fighting.

However some of them did fight - please take a look at: http://www.kaiserscross.com/304501/319801.html

I do hope that you will post more information about Ernest.

I also hope that somebody who understands medal rolls will answer your query on what COL signifies.


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Many thank for the information and links, all very helpful. On my phone at present but will read up when I get home.

(I'm relieved COL = Colonial).

Thanks again,


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  • 11 months later...

Can I include in this thread this BWIR officer

Captain S J Mason (I believe that the S is for "Stanley")

His WO338 entry is below


I cannot find a MIC (there is a Mason in BWIR, but he does not appear to have been commissioned)

The bits I have coaxed out of LG are :-

1919 May 5. Asst. Mil. Landing Officer (Cl. FF).— Temp. Capt. S. J. Mason, 11th Br. W.I. R.

1919 Nov 3. Asst. Mil. Landing Officer (Cl. FF).—Temp. Capt. S. J. Mason, Br. W.I.R.

1919 Dec 16. B. W.I.R. Service Battalions. Temp. Capt. S. J. Mason relinquishes his commission on completion of service, and retains the rank of Capt.

I cannot get his commission, and have no idea why he ended up in BWIR. Can anyone help me with any information on Capt S J Mason?

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