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Remembering the contribution of black soldiers in World War One

Throughout October, communities around the country have been celebrating the history and achievements of black people in the UK as part of ‘Black History Month.’ One area that has often been overlooked is the important contribution of black soldiers during the First World War.

Following the outbreak of war in 1914, Britain called upon its commonwealth to help supply much needed troops, with men from the Caribbean, Nigeria, Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, Gambia and other colonies being recruited to fight. However, the commemorations largely fail to acknowledge the contributions and experiences of these soldiers.

As part of the centenary of the First World War, the Arts & Humanities Research Council, through its five engagement centres (see ahrc.ukri.org/WW1), has been helping communities around the UK to research black soldiers and reveal their untold story.

See also our 'Discovering the stories of Asian soldiers during the First World War' feature.

Stories of Omission

Last weekend, the 'Stories of Omission: conflict and the experience of Black soldiers (PDF)' project was launched at the Library of Birmingham. The volunteers involved in the project explored sources such as newspapers, film footage, biographies and photos to find stories that were missed out, hidden, ignored or disregarded, with the intention of ‘rectifying the omission’.

Trench Brothers exhibition

HMDT Music’s Trench Brothers exhibition explores the role of the British West Indies Regiment and black British soldiers, as well as the Indian Army, following the journeys and experiences of 8 individual soldiers. It includes the findings of a research project that looked at the British West Indies Regiment training camp in Seaford. The exhibition includes maps to trace their travel, a range of artefacts including model puppets and audio recordings of children’s Letters Home from given soldiers they set to music with a composer. www.hmdt.org.uk/hmdtmusic/trenchbrothers/exhibition/

Black Parisian Moment (1918-19)

The British Library is hosting an event looking at the Black Parisian Moment (1918-19). It looks at the first Pan-African Congress which took place in Paris in 1919 and how this marked a significant moment in black history and culture. It was an instance of the renewed determination of African Americans in the fight for equality spurred on by the war. As W. E. B. DuBois proclaimed in an editorial that ran in the May 1919 issue of Crisis: “We return from fighting. We return fighting. Make way for Democracy!”. www.bl.uk/events/revisiting-the-black-parisian-moment

See also

Other projects:

  • Breaking The Myths - World War One And Africa - The project aims to address this exclusion by highlighting the involvement of African people and the conflict played out within Africa.
  • Exploring The West Indian Contribution To The First World War - We Made It, Let's Share It! - The project explores the West Indian contribution to the First World War through the West India Regiment (WIR) - which was comprised of mainly black African soldiers - and how they hugely contributed to the defeat of Germany in Africa.
  • Video: Minding Black Histories in War Times - This video (below) documents the activities and findings of the project 'Minding Black Histories in War Times: Remembering, Acknowledging and Documenting Contributions of Black Poppies in WWI'.

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