Dennis Litchmore is a member of the W.A.W.I (Why Are West Indians In This Country) project. He is dressed in The British West Indian Regiment (BWIR), 1st World War uniform and holding the BWI Regimental Standard. Dennis’s Grand-Father and Great-Uncle served in the British West Indian Regiment in the 1st World War.
The British West Indian Regiment (BWIR) was established between 1915 after the British had originally opposed the recruitment from the West Indian troops. The volunteers came from various countries of the West Indies such as; The Bahamas, British Honduras (now Belize), The Leeward Islands, Barbados, St Vincent, Granada, British Guiana (now Guyana), Trinidad and Tobago.
Initially, the soldiers of the British West Indian Regiment was not allowed to fight as equals with their British counterparts, due to their colour. They were given menial duties instead, such as stretcher-bearers, trench diggers, and working in ammunition dumps, (without the required protection). In some ways, this was puzzling because in 1916 the War Office had relaxed their objections to allowing the British West Indian Regiment to be used in combat.
The British West Indian Regiment (BWIR) was used in supporting roles in major conflicts, for instance, during the Battle of the Somme, as the casualties mounted up among the fighting troops and backup personnel were needed on the front line. They were being killed just the same as the fighting men, however, they were not allowed to fight.
When the British casualties became paramount, it was decided that the British West Indian Regiment (BWIR) should be allowed to fight. They fought mainly in the Middle East and Africa, although some did serve in Europe. The 7th Battalion, for instance, was deployed to fight in France and Flanders.
The 2nd Battalion of the BWIR was ordered to clear enemy posts close to the British line in Palestine. After advancing across over 5km of open land under heavy fire, and losing nine men with 43 wounded, the objective was met. Lance Corporal Sampson and Private Spence were awarded the Military Medal for bravery during the action.
Major General Sir Edward Chaytor wrote, “Outside my own division there are no troops I would sooner have with me than the BWIs who have won the highest opinions of all who have been with them during our operations here.”
In 1917 It was said of the men by Field Marshall Douglas Haig, “The arduous and brave work carried out under continuous gunfire should be recognised”. At last, they were given a chance to shine.
General Allenby sent a telegram to the Governor of Jamaica regarding the 1st British West Indies Regiment which read;
‘I have great pleasure in informing you of the gallant conduct of the machine-gun section of the 1st British West Indies Regiment during two successful raids on the Turkish trenches. All ranks behaved with great gallantry under heavy rifle and shell fire and contributed in no small measure to the success of the Operations’.
Horace Barnes formed the W.A.W.I (The Why Are West Indians In This Country) project, in 2009. His aim is to reproduce the flags of the Regiments, which still hang today in Westminster, as a symbol of the men’s sacrifices.
In order that these brave men would not be forgotten Horace Barnes’ project, allows the flags to be paraded through the streets of Birmingham once a year as a reminder of the sacrifices made by all communities, regardless of colour, creed or race.
It is with his and Dennis Litchmore’s permission, holders of the copyright, that it has been made possible to use this image.
Read about the BWR in the book:-
“Pilots and Soldiers of the Caribbean; Fighting Men of the Caribbean”.
Author Maureen M Dickson
ISBN- Paperback 978 1838-0127-48. ISBN – e-Book 978 1838 0127 55
NEW WEBSITE; – http://www.caribbeanservicemen.co.uk