What happened to the British West Indies Regiment after World War One

What was the end of the war like for the British West Indies Regiment (BWIR)?

On 11 November 1918, World War One ended with the signing of the Armistice agreement. Thousands of soldiers returned home, and many Allied forces were met with victory parades to celebrate the end of the war.

In July and August 1919, victory parades in London celebrated peace in Europe. The parades included soldiers from British and British Empire forces plus Allied armies. However, despite their significant contribution to the war effort, the British West Indies Regiment (BWIR) did not attend the parades.

Watch the video below to learn why it’s important to investigate primary sources, like an official photograph, to find out the real stories behind these photos.

Play the video to find out what happened to the wider empire troops after the war

Victory parades in London celebrated peace in Europe

Crowds gather to watch soldiers from the British Empire at peace parades in London.

Indian troops march during victory parades in London

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How did the BWIR return home?

Watch the video to find out why and how the BWIR had already returned home to the Caribbean before the Peace Day parades in London.

Play the video to find out about the mounting tension in the British West Indies Regiment after WW1

Although fighting had stopped in November 1918, the soldiers were not able to return home just yet.

They continued to be in active service until the peace treaties had been signed. The BWIR were then sent home through a process called demobilisation or ‘demobbing’ for short.

Demobbing means that men are officially released from their military duties and returned to civilian life. All men were demobbed when they returned to their home countries. For the BWIR this was a long journey by sea from Italy.

The end of the war was hard for everyone returning home. People from across the world came home to struggling economies, low wages and high unemployment rates. This was also the case for the men of the BWIR returning home to the Caribbean.

The Taranto Mutiny

After the Armistice agreement, 11 BWIR battalions based in Taranto, Italy, were preparing to be demobbed when a mutiny broke out. The BWIR protested against the British Army as they were upset about racial discrimination with unequal pay and division of labour. Segregated facilities meant men in the BWIR didn't have access to recreation building or the soliders hospital, they were treated in the labourers' hospital instead

This slideshow gives an overview of the key events of the mutiny in Taranto and examples of racial discrimination.

A photograph of the city of Taranto.

The BWIR were recruited under the same pay and conditions as British soldiers, but a pay increase was denied to them. Due to a shortage of labour at Taranto, the BWIR were made to do manual labour such as kitchen duties and cleaning toilets for Italian civilian labourers who were below the military rank of the BWIR.

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The legacy of World War One for the BWIR

In this video, explore what happened to the soldiers who served in the BWIR after they returned home from the war in 1918.

Play the video to discover what happened after World War One

Many historians see World War One as the beginning of the end for the British Empire.

Some members of the BWIR questioned their relationship with Britain after their experiences during the war. Several returning soldiers went on to become political figures and activists who would fight for equal rights and independence from the British Empire.

After the war, the spread of ideas from activists such as Marcus Garvey and campaigns for independence led to incidents of unrest in many of the Caribbean islands including Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad as civil rights movements grew and more people wanted to split from the Empire.

However, despite these movements, it wasn’t until after World War Two that most colonies gained full independence from the British Empire.

Archive images and footage provided by Imperial War Museums

Glossary

TermDefinition
ArmisticeWhen the two opposing sides in a war agree to stop fighting. This marks the end of a war.
BattalionAn army unit that forms part of a regiment. A soldier will often have a strong association with their battalion during their service in the Army.
British EmpireThe areas of the world once colonised and controlled by the British monarchy and government.
Civil rights movementA name given to a series of movements, events and leaders which together aimed to campaign for equal rights.
DemobilisationReleasing a person from serving in the Army.
MutinyThe name given to the actions of two or more soldiers disobeying their orders.
Racial discriminationThe act of making unjustified distinctions and treating people differently based on the colour of their skin or ethnic origin.
RegimentAn army unit with a distinct identity and usually a combat role.
West IndiesThe West Indies was a term first used during the period of European colonialism to refer to the islands in the Caribbean.

Where next?

Why the British West Indies Regiment joined World War One
Segregation and racism of the South African Native Labour Corps
World War One