Why we need to remember the Black and Asian people who fought in World War 1

These soldiers volunteered to help the British army despite what the British empire did to their home countries

Serving submariners hold wreaths of poppies during the Submariners Remembrance Service and Parade (Photo: Henry Nicholls/AFP/Getty Images)
Serving submariners hold wreaths of poppies during the Submariners Remembrance Service and Parade (Photo: Henry Nicholls/AFP/Getty Images)

|HABIBA KATSHA, i|AIWA! NO!|This year marks the 100 years since the end of World War 1 in November 1918.

Since then Every year we remember those who risked their lives for us to live a better life in Britain. However, it seems that the people of colour who fought in the war played a less significant role in WW1 and this isn’t true. 

Until recently, I didn’t know that people of colour fought in the battle and this is the case for many other British people. The lives of soldiers of colour are just as important as their English counterparts and it’s time we started telling their stories. Serving with ‘great gallantry’ During WW1, the British empire was still intact so black individuals from British colonies travelled from their respected countries to come and fight for Britain.

Britain was often referred to as “the mother country” and people came from countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Gambia, and Jamaica to help defeat the Germans.

The British West Indies Regiment (BWIR) was a unit made up of volunteers from British colonies in the West Indies. The BWIR made their mark in the military, especially in Palestine and Jordan. The name of former Northampton Town player Walter Tull is inscribed on the Arras Memorial.

Tull was killed on March 25th 1918 during the second battle of the Somme (Photo: Pete Norton/Getty Images) 

The British Imperial Governor General Allenby sent a telegram to the then-Governor of Jamaica, William Henry Manning stating: “All ranks behaved with great gallantry under heavy rifle and shell fire and contributed in no small measure to the success of the operations.”  

Towards the end of the war, in November 1918, a total of 15,600 black men, had served in the (BWIR). A Black Brit who deserves an honourable mention is Walter Tull who died serving in the war. Tull was not only a soldier but a football player too.  

The footballer was born in Kent and was the first black outfield player to feature in the English top flight. He went on join the British Army and became the first black officer to lead white troops into battle. Tull suffered from shellshock and died in action in 1918 aged 29.

South East Asians also played a significant role in the first world war. Indians had a large presence in the WW1 as it’s estimated that 1.3 million Indians served in world war one and 74,187 Indian soldiers died. Indians troops helped various divisions in European, Mediterranean, Mesopotamian, North African and East African theatres of war.

Victoria crosses The Indian troops managed to break through the German defence by recapturing the town of Neuve Chapelle after the British had lost it. The Indian army fighting in the trenches suffered 34,252 total casualties during the trenches. Victoria Crosses is the highest award for gallantry that a British and Commonwealth serviceman can achieve.

Darwan Singh Negi and 10 other Indians received Victoria Crosses. He was given the title of subedar in Urdu which is the equivalent of British captain. Both of his sons went on to follow in his footsteps to become soldiers and joined the Indian army. As a person of colour, these stories make me proud of my Black and British heritage.

These soldiers volunteered to help the British army despite what the British empire did to their home countries. At a time when race and racism are touchy subjects in the UK, stories like these highlight how people of colour have contributed to Britain and that needs to be recognised. 

Published by

Crimson Tazvinzwa

GRADUATE STUDENT: MASTERS OF LAWS, DE MONTFORT UNIVERSITY, http://dmu.ac.uk/ SCHOOL OF BUSINESS & LAWS, LEICESTER.

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