African Caribbean Soldiers during WWII Part 3

| November 21, 2015

After the War finished, we were looking forward to peace time. We were still in reserve and whilst in our various camps, some of us went through some form of vocational training to prepare us for

Social and Cultural Anthropologist and contributor Scherin Barlow-Massay

Social and Cultural Anthropologist and contributor Scherin Barlow-Massay

civilian life. After we were demobbed, it was different. The women were still very nice, but the young men, lets call them thugs, would say “The war is over; it’s time you boys go back to your own country.” And we would say “We came to fight on your behalf, you don’t tell us when to leave this country, all in good time!” And there was lots of animosity from the young thugs who were determined to start trouble. We’d go to the local dance hall in Carlisle, which is part of Cumbria and some young thugs would attack one of our officers, so we’d go and rescue him and then a fight would start inside that spilled out onto the pavement. That kind of thing we had to cope with, but we did our best because we weren’t the ones going out to look for trouble; we were attacked. They were saying “The war is over, leave the country.” That was what the fighting was all about, but we were able to look after ourselves. Sometimes, of course, we were beaten up, but we gave as good as any.

Back home to Jamaica

We went on a troop ship called the SS Winchester Victory and our first port of call from England was Trinidad & Tobago.

Servicemen from Guyana, Barbados, and Trinidad & Tobago disembarked in Trinidad. From there, they made arrangements for them to get to Barbados, the other islands and Guyana. Then the troop ship took the rest of us to Jamaica. We were the last to get off the boat. While we were in Trinidad, we were disappointed because the commanding officer wouldn’t let us ashore. He was afraid that we might go astray when the boat was ready to leave. Looking back now, the commanding officer was right because we were young and coming from Europe.

many West Indian soldiers joined the army as the result of financial and social pressures. Photo courtesy historicalgeographies.blogspot.com

Many West Indian soldiers joined the army as the result of financial and social pressures. Photo courtesy historicalgeographies.blogspot.com

When we touched down in Jamaica, there was a military band playing to greet us. There were thousands of young pretty women welcoming us, cheering us; then we realised that West Indian women are pretty, they were so lovely to look at and we realised what we’d been missing all those years. And of course, our families and loved ones were outside and we went our respective ways.

Jamaica at that time, had no industry, it was just citrus fruits and bananas. Sugar was shipped to England, but there wasn’t any work to absorb us men. After the war the Royal Air Force set up programmes of educational vocational training or EVC. We were sent to college to be trained for civilian life. We were trained as engineers, teachers, doctors, dentists and lawyers and then returned to the Caribbean. I was trained as a machine shop production engineer at Wandsworth Technical College in 1946. But because a lot of us were qualified in different trades, there was high unemployment. So those of us who already served in the armed forces came back to Europe and settled down in England. This was in the early 1950s and then you had civilians coming over for the first time looking for jobs. And in those days getting a decent room or a flat could be like a lottery, until West Indians started clubbing together in what they called a ‘Pardner’ They pooled together, then they’d save up money and be able to buy a house so that they could rent their fellow West Indian a room or two.”

In 2002, Queen Elizabeth opened the Hyde Park Memorial Gate on Constitutional Hill to commemorate Indian, African and Caribbean soldiers who fought during both world wars. The monument, also called the Commonwealth Memorial Gates is dedicated to the five million volunteers who fought on behalf of the British Empire.

In 2014 on Armistice Day (November 11) a monument to men and women of African descent who served Britain in military campaigns during both world wars was temporarily unveiled at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, south–west London. However, unless more than £25,000 can be donated to pay for it, this monument that acknowledges the contribution of Africans and Caribbean service men and women will be auctioned. Visit http://africanandcaribbeanmemorial.com/

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