The British West Indies Regiment mutiny at Taranto and multicultural memories of the First World War

Smith, Richard W. P.. 2018. 'The British West Indies Regiment mutiny at Taranto and multicultural memories of the First World War'. In: Voices of the Homes Fronts. The National Archives, United Kingdom 19 October 2018. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

The mutiny of British West Indies Regiment battalions at Taranto, Italy in December 1918, occupies a central place in both Anglophone Caribbean historiography and the history of insurrection in the First World War. Since Elkins’ pioneering 1970 study, the event continues to be regarded as embodying resistance to a racist military hierarchy and as a manifestation of nascent nationalism. While these attributes still capture the central significance of the mutiny, closer attention to historical details and long-term outcomes demand attention if a more complete picture of the revolt and its legacy is to be conveyed. This paper therefore explores the tension between radical nationalist demands and parallel hopes for imperial reform, co-operation and welfare schemes among the Taranto veterans. Accounting for the short-lived nature of the Caribbean League, evidently the only organisation to emerge directly from the mutiny, the paper also considers the tension between collective West Indian independence struggles and the pursuit of distinctive nationalist struggles in Caribbean islands and on the mainland. The persistence of West Indian colour and class distinctions, which contributed to differing political activities and roles for non-commissioned officers and private soldiers, will also be discussed.

In assessing the contemporary relevance of the mutiny, the paper will unpick the divergent strands of history, memory and commemoration which have arisen from the transition of West Indian volunteers, and their descendants, from imperial subjects, to citizens of independent and fragmented national entities, to members of migrant communities in the UK and beyond. The recognition of past military heroism, alongside the history of resistance to military authority, have been deployed as a means of raising the esteem and cohesiveness of BAME communities. However, within this framing it is important to consider the breadth of wartime experiences rather than simply the spectacular imagery of front-line heroism and resistance.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


First World War, British West Indies Regiment, Mutiny, Caribbean League

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


28 May 2018Accepted

Event Location:

The National Archives, United Kingdom

Date range:

19 October 2018

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

13 Dec 2018 11:21

Last Modified:

13 Dec 2018 11:22


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