By Frederick H. Lowe
Sir Michael Fallon, Britain’s Secretary of Defense, recently unveiled the country’s first- ever memorial to the two million African and Caribbean troops who fought in World War I and World War II for England but whose valor and sacrifice were never lauded or depicted in major feature films about either war.
Sir Fallon unveiled the memorial on June 22 in Windrush Square, Brixton, London. “The UK is indebted to all those servicemen and women from Africa and the Caribbean who volunteered to serve with Britain during the First and Second World Wars,” Sir Fallon said.”It is thanks to their bravery and sacrifice that we are able to enjoy our freedoms today. We should also congratulate those who have worked tirelessly to place this memorial in the heart of Brixton.”
Jak Beula, CEO of the Nubian Jak Trust, said, more than two million African and Caribbean military servicemen and servicewomen participated in World War I and World War II, but they until now they have not been recognized for their contribution. The unveiling of this memorial is to correct this historical omission and to ensure young people of African and Caribbean descent are aware of the valuable input of their forefathers had in the two world wars. Nubian Jak Community Trust (NJCT) is a commemorative plaque and sculpture scheme that highlights the historic contributions of black and minority ethnic people in Britain.
Black Britons volunteered for the Army and Navy soon after Britain joined the First World War in August 1914. As the war pulled in volunteers from around the world, they were soon joined by men and women from the Caribbean, many of whom paid their own passage to fight for Britain, which some called the “Mother Country.”
By the end of World War I, 11 battalions comprising more than 15,000 soldiers– 66 percent of whom came from Jamaica– had seen action in Palestine and Jordan. These troops also saw action in France, Belgium, Italy, Egypt, Mesopotamia (Iraq) and East Africa.
Some 2,500 were killed or wounded and 81 received medals for bravery, according to the secretary’s office.
Some 55,000 men from Africa were recruited for military service from Nigeria, Gambia, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South Africa, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Nyasaland (now Malawi), Kenya and Ghana then known as the Gold Coast. African troops did not fight in Europe but they fought in the Middle East and on the African continent. Some 10,000 Africans were killed and 166 received medals for bravery.
During World War II, 16,000 men and women from the Caribbean left their homes and families for the British Armed Forces. Around 6,000 served in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force working as fighter pilots, technicians, air gunners and ground staff.
West Indian women also served in Britain with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and the Auxiliary Territorial Service. Some 236 Caribbean volunteers were killed or reported missing during World War II and 265 were wounded. Caribbean air force personnel received 103 awards for bravery.
“The histories of the world wars often overlook the significant contributions made by African and Caribbean soldiers,” said Paul Reid, director of the Black Cultural Archives. “However, today we can proudly mark the recognition of their bravery and sacrifice to the struggles of independence.”