August 19, 2022

World War One and the Caribbean

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By Debbie Ransome

(Caribbean Intelligence) Amid the huge media focus on the 100th anniversary of World War One, not so much is said about the contribution of the smaller parts of what was then the British Empire, including the Caribbean.

The West Indies, as it was known at the time, certainly provided its fair share of troops: official records indicate that 16,000 volunteers joined the British West Indies Regiment. The region also became an important source of donations and food for the British forces and those on the home front. The Caribbean was an important source of “men, money and munitions”. With a little digging, Caribbean Intelligence© has pulled together these accounts of the Caribbean’s Great War.

In his book The Empire at War, Colonial Office civil servant and British historian Sir Charles Westwood Lucas first documented the war histories of the imperial “big five” – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. In volume two of this work, he documented the contributions of the West Indies. The Caribbean’s rum, sugar, cocoa and lime juice were vital for the British forces and also needed in Britain. Other not so well-known products included mahogany from British Honduras (now Belize) to make propellers for planes, sea island cotton for balloons and Trinidad’s oil for the Royal Navy. Germany was fully aware of this supply and used extensive submarine action to try and cut off the supply of foodstuffs and other supplies from the Caribbean to Britain. The U-boat activity made it so difficult for supplies to get in and out of the region that the 1917 Vegetable Produce Act was introduced in Barbados, making it compulsory for landowners to plant a designated amount of land with vegetables. Some historians argue that World War One and the decline of the UK-West Indies connection led to the growth of American companies making gains in West Indian markets.

Read more at: Caribbean Intelligence


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