We mark the importance of Armistice Day by holding one minute’s silence at 11am on the 11th November remembering those who fought and died during WW1.
Out of everything we saw, a large stone tablet with all the names inscribed in alphabetical order struck me the most.
I looked through the names and to my shock was the name Oke. He was part of the Southampton Squadron.
Looking back I wish I photographed it – although it’s forever imprinted in my mind.
I couldn’t believe it. I had no clue that Black men fought in WW1 on behalf of Britain.
Over 15,000 Caribbean and 10,000 Jamaican men fought in WW1.
Over 180,000 Africans fought and also served in uniformed Labour Units.
In 1915, the BWIR (British West Indian Regiment) was formed as a separate Black unit within the British Army after a proposal was sent.
The British Army promised the BWIR equal treatment as their white counterparts.
However, the BWIR received lower pay and allowances.
They were used as non-combatant soldiers in Egypt, Mesopotamia and parts in Europe.
A lot of the Black soldiers dug the trenches, loaded ammunition, laid telephone wires; as they were not allowed to fight as a battalion.
Unfortunately 19 of the BWIR soldiers died as they faced their first British winter when they arrived.
This was from pneumonia, as their huts in the Seaford training camp were poorly built.
Black soldiers were so proud to represent their “Mother Country” and some believed that it would end colonial rule.
It’s only recently that Walter Tull has received his dues for his heroism in WW1.
Walter was a professional footballer playing for Tottenham Hotspur and hung up his boots to help with Britain’s war effort.
He was promoted to the rank of Sergeant in the Football Battalion, then in 1916 he was trained to be an Officer.
It was an achievement as only white men could be Officers.
Walter died at age 29, while leading an attack during the second Battle of the Somme on the Western Front on the 25th March 1918.
Despite the efforts led by Walter’s friend Thomas Billingham, he was unable to find Walter’s body to give him a proper burial.
Since writing this article, an unmarked graveyard has been discovered in Northern France where Tull may have been buried.
How we now uphold our Forgotten Black Heroes
In recent years there has been more awareness of Black heroes who fought in WW1. David Lammy released a documentary called Forgotten Black Soldiers in 2019.
Forget Me Not organization sells pins and badges with flags that represented the countries under colonial rule.
We remember and thank every soldier who fought and sacrificed their lives.
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