Islands at war: the British West Indian experience of the First World War, 1914-1927

Reid, Christopher (2021) Islands at war: the British West Indian experience of the First World War, 1914-1927. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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This dissertation examines the experiences of British West Indian soldiers of the all-volunteer British West Indies Regiment and the British Regular Army’s West India Regiment during the First World War and how these experiences contributed to a rise in Black West Indian nationalism during the early interwar period. It highlights how, over the course of three years of First World War service, West Indians hoped that Britain would reward their military service with opportunities for social mobility and that the growth of Black West Indian nationalism resulted from these rewards not being granted. Whereas the existing historiography has examined the West Indian experience solely from a racial perspective, this dissertation argues that race was not a monocausal influence on the West Indian wartime experience. Britain’s plans for global war, difficulties associated with raising and training new battalions, and army strategic considerations, along with race, played a part in how the West Indian Great War experience played out. When compared to other imperial forces, the West Indian experience of 1914-18 was not unique. West Indian troops participated in combat operations in Cameroon, German East Africa, and Palestine while also serving as military labourers and support troops in Mesopotamia, Italy, and the Western Front. Yet, when Britain did not reward their wartime service with employment, massed land settlement, or the right to vote, West Indians responded by using tactics from their prewar struggles with imperial authority — strikes and civil demonstrations — leading to the rise of a West Indian nationalist movement centred on race, class, and First World War service.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 15685
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 291-312)
Keywords: First World War, British West Indies, Great War, experience, imperial history
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > History
Date: October 2021
Date Type: Submission
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Library of Congress Subject Heading: World War, 1914-1918; West Indies, British; Great Britain. Army. British West Indies Regiment; Black nationalism

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