Africans and West Indians at war

Although most people’s impression of the First World War is of the mud and trenches of the Western Front, in fact the geographical spread of the war extended far wider than this. As well as France, Belgium and Germany, the war was also fought in Russia (the Eastern Front), Italy, Turkey, Arabia, Iraq and in many parts of Africa.


Gold Coast Regiment Maxim gun sectionThe war in Africa was fought mainly by soldiers recruited and stationed in African colonies. Thus it was that men from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Malawi, Kenya and Uganda, fought as British soldiers against the Germans in Africa, normally accompanied by experienced soldiers seconded from the Indian army. Alongside them were French soldiers of Senegalese, Moroccan and Algerian origin. Some of the German soldiers they fought were ethnic Germans, but most were African soldiers recruited in Togo, Cameroon and Tanzania.


Gold Coast Regt on marchThe African theatre of the war began in Togo and German South West Africa (Namibia), before moving to Cameroon, and then to large areas of East Africa. Unlike the static killing grounds of the Western and Eastern Fronts, the war in Africa was mobile and dynamic, involving bush fighting and many ‘cat and mouse’ chases as opposing units attempted to catch up with or outflank each other, often marching long distances to do so. It was a war of temporary camps, railway lines, rivers, hills and plains, crossed by large numbers of small to medium sized units of soldiers. Conditions ranged from the humidity, rain and mangrove swamps of Cameroon to the breezy grasslands of the Savannah.


British West Indies Regiment soldiers and officerFighting in Africa alongside the African regiments were soldiers of The West India Regiment, who were mainly of Jamaican origin and had a history of being stationed in Sierra Leone.


2 WIR Officer and detactment 1898Like most of Britain’s colonies, the islands of the West Indies also experienced large numbers of men loyally¬†volunteering to join the fight against the Germans when the war broke out. To accommodate them, a new regiment was formed for service on the Western Front, named the British West Indies Regiment. These men served mainly in France, although some battalions were also sent to Italy, Palestine and Mesopotamia (Iraq).