The Multicultural First World War: memories of the West Indian contribution in contemporary Britain

Smith, Richard W. P.. 2015. The Multicultural First World War: memories of the West Indian contribution in contemporary Britain. Journal of European Studies, 45(4), pp. 347-363. ISSN 0047-2441 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The experiences of West Indian soldiers in the First World War have received renewed attention during the centenary commemorations. By exploring how the West Indian contribution is imagined in the media and creative arts, this paper problematizes the historical memory linking military service to citizenship in multicultural Britain. During the conflict, West Indian participation was used to suggest that the British Empire stood united in the face of German aggression. Through the 1920s and 1930s, the contribution of West Indian volunteers was recalled to support many political campaigns, including West Indian self-government and pan-African campaigns opposed to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Although West Indian soldiers were often excluded from combat roles, these movements relied on the rhetoric of masculine military sacrifice. Post-independence, West Indian nation states recalled imperial military service to affirm national identity. For the descendants of West Indian migrants in Britain, First World War military service may serve to underpin claims to equal citizenship. Government agencies and funding organizations have also turned to the West Indian war memory to increase community cohesion. The paper concludes that memories of belonging predicated on past military service are problematic. Non-combatant service may be overlooked and troubling histories avoided.

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


14 October 2015Published Online
1 December 2015Published

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Date Deposited:

10 Nov 2015 12:09

Last Modified:

03 Oct 2017 15:45

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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