Compiled by S. Davis & J. Adams – Contributions to WWI & II
THE WAR YEARS (1939 – 45)
Recruitment in Jamaica
When war was declared and more personnel were needed for the front line, you had English officers who came to Jamaica. I was 19 and I can remember, they would go into all the little corners of Jamaica and they would beg, literally beg you to come and fight for England because you see we were brought up that England was our Mother Country and obviously when your mother has problems you’ve got to come and help her. So we all felt obliged to come and everybody was very happy to come.
Most of the men that came to England came from the country parts. Kingston is the capital of Jamaica and most of them had never even come to Kingston until they were going to war. I have actually had the opportunity of going on the troop ships. The ships were so crowded there were four to a bunk and I wondered how some of these men who had never travelled on a boat before survived in such cramped conditions. It was like pushing animals together because they really had the ships all cramped to make sure they got as many as they could to fight for England.
The Reality of war
he first time the reality of war came to me was when I read in our local paper, The Gleaner that Enid Edwards, from Port Antonio, died in a ship returning to Jamaica. The ship was torpedoed by the Germans. She was my best friend and we went to the same piano teacher. Enid studied at the Royal College of Music in London and passed all her exams with distinction. We were so proud of her and looked forward so much to her return to Jamaica. I cried for weeks.
Warden and internment camps
We had wardens who went around the towns and villages in the island and, if by chance you had one speck of light showing from your house, you’d be arrested and fined. Another thing that people don’t know is that we had an internment camp in Jamaica. When war was declared, all the merchant ships that were in the Caribbean area that had Germans and Italian men working on board were stopped, and the men taken as prisoners. It must be remembered that England was at war with Germany and Italy and they were our enemies.
Well I have found that a lot of people are not really aware of how involved we were in the war, in Jamaica. For instance, I went in the army. I volunteered myself as a Medical Secretary and I was assigned to the Assistant Director of Medical Services in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) . When you are in the army you are on 24 hour duty. You know nothing about off duty, so I used to have my uniform hung up, ready at all times. My mother died and so I lived with my aunt and anywhere I was going my aunt had to know because if a troop ship came in at 2am in the morning, the Military Police would come to my home, knock on the door and, in five minutes flat, I had to be dressed and out. If I wasn’t there my aunt would tell them where I was, whether I in a night club or what ever, the Military Police would come and get me and I had to be down at the troop ship.
At the port side the reality of war comes home to you, because you saw men leaving hale and hearty and you see them coming back on stretchers and wheelchairs, some blind.
I get very annoyed that people don’t want to accept how the West Indies were involved in the war and how we were brought up to love the King and Country, love the Queen, to love England, and to respect England. Then when we came here after the war, what did we see? We saw signs that said ‘No Blacks, no Irish, no dogs, no children’. That really used to hurt.
Source: THE BLACK PRESENCE IN HAMMERSITH AND FULHAM: By Stephan Bourne & Sav Kyriacou – ISBN 1 871338 14X
Donations to Britain’s war chest
As a joint contribution, the people from the islands of the West Indies donated almost a million pounds towards Britain’s war effort. As well as this, they also gave, three million in interest-free loans, £500,000* towards war charities and a further £500,000 for the purchase of aircrafts.
* £1 in 1939 is worth £64.80 in today’s money.