What happened to the British West Indies Regiment after World War One
Created in partnership with Imperial War Museums.
These are the key learning points covered on this page.
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.
Victory parades in London celebrated peace in Europe
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Armistice||When the two opposing sides in a war agree to stop fighting. This marks the end of a war.|
|Battalion||An 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 Empire||The areas of the world once colonised and controlled by the British monarchy and government.|
|Civil rights movement||A name given to a series of movements, events and leaders which together aimed to campaign for equal rights.|
|Demobilisation||Releasing a person from serving in the Army.|
|Mutiny||The name given to the actions of two or more soldiers disobeying their orders.|
|Racial discrimination||The act of making unjustified distinctions and treating people differently based on the colour of their skin or ethnic origin.|
|Regiment||An army unit with a distinct identity and usually a combat role.|
|West Indies||The West Indies was a term first used during the period of European colonialism to refer to the islands in the Caribbean.|