Caribbean participants in the First World War
15,600 men of the British West Indies Regiment served with the Allied forces. Jamaica contributed two-thirds of these volunteers, while others came from Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, the Bahamas, British Honduras, Grenada, British Guiana (now Guyana), the Leeward Islands, St Lucia and St Vincent. Nearly 5,000 more subsequently volunteered to join up.British West Indies Regiment during the Somme offensive, September 1916
© Imperial War Museum
In Palestine and Jordan the BWIR saw front-line service against the Turkish army; in France, Egypt and Italy the men served in auxiliary roles.
Out of a population of 1,700,000 in the Caribbean Colonies of the British Empire, over 1,200 were killed or died, while more than 2,500 were wounded.
81 medals for bravery were won, and 49 men were mentioned in despatches.
Their Own Stories
Winston Churchill Millington: British West Indies Regiment
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Winston Churchill Millington was born in Barbados in 1893. In 1897 he moved to Trinidad with his father, who was a teacher. In 1911 Winston started working at a secondary school in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad. He was one of the first to volunteer for B Company in Trinidad, which along with soldiers from Guyana, Trinidad, St Vincent, St Lucia, Barbados, Jamaica, the Bahamas and British Honduras would form the British West Indies Regiment. In December 1916 they sailed from England to Alexandria, in Egypt, on their way to fight in the Palestine Campaign. Winston Churchill Millington
The Palestine Campaign was far away from the main conflicts of the First World War in Europe. However, the battle here against the Turks was a vicious affair because, according to Winston Millington, �the Turks were ferocious fighters.� It was not long before the machine-gun crews of the West Indian regiment were tested out. They were sent into action against a large body of Turkish soldiers and showed great coolness and self-discipline under fire.
The commanding officer of 162 Machine-gun Company praised the work of the West Indian gunners:
"The men (in the machine-gun section) worked exceedingly well ... showing keen interest in their work, cheerfulness, coolness under fire and the ability to carry it out under difficulties."
General Allenby also highlighted the machine-gun crews� outstanding achievements. He wrote to the Governors of Jamaica and the other British West Indian colonies:
"I have great pleasure in informing you of the excellent conduct of the machine-gun section of the BWIR during two successful raids on the Turkish trenches. All ranks behaved with great gallantry under heavy rifle fire, and contributed in no small measure to the success of the operation."
In these battles a number of soldiers distinguished themselves through their bravery. One of them was Winston Millington. When the Turks attacked, the rest of his gun crew were killed by enemy fire, but Winston continued to fire his gun for several minutes. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his gallantry and coolness in action.