Veterans from the British Colonies

Compiled by S. Davis & J. Adams – Contributions to WWI & II

Remembering the one million men and women who joined the British war effort for World War I from the British colonies and the British Empire.

George Blackman

Out of the Caribbean soldiers who served in the British army in WWI, only Stanley Stair (died 2008) outlived George Blackman who died at the age of 105.

George Blackman – also thought to be the oldest living Barbadian in 2003 – had been admitted to hospital with severe pains. “He was reported to be doing fine and was due for release from hospital, but succumbed to his illness,” said an official at the Barbados ministry of foreign affairs.

Mr Blackman was one of 15,000 men who volunteered for the British West Indies Regiment at the outbreak of war in 1914.

Instead of the glory of fighting for the mother country, they found casual racism and horrific danger. Often denied the status of combat troops, they were instead given dangerous tasks in no man’s land such as laying telephone cables or carrying ammunition.

After a mutiny of Caribbean soldiers at a British base in Taranto, Italy, at the end of the war, many were shipped home without victory parades.

The scar above his left eyebrow, he said was a bayonet cut on the eye.

George Blackman (1897 – 2003) was in the 4th Battalion of the British West Indies Regiment from 1914 to 1919.

Eugene and John Brown

Brothers Eugene and John Brown came to England from the Ghana, West Africa, to study just before war broke out. They wanted to help out so they stopped their studies and joined the British Army in 1914.  John was killed and Eugene badly injured. After the war Eugene got married to and had two sons, Roy and Doug Brown.  

Eugene later died of his war injuries and the boys were raised by their mother Daisy, an English Woman from Stoke-on-Trent. Roy was a talented footballer and was signed up by Stoke City and Doug was appointed Lord Mayor.

According to the book Black Tommies: British Soldiers of African Descent in the First World:

“West African volunteers include Nigerian father and uncle of the British-born footballer Roy Brown, Eugene and John Brown (Roy Brown was a teammate of Stanley Matthews at Stoke City in the late 1930’s). Eugene and John served in the 5th Staffordshire Regiment having originally come to Britain to attend college. Roy’s father Eugene was killed in action, while his uncle John ended his war days in hospital. Eugene’s other son, Douglas, became the first black mayor of Stoke on Trent in 1983.”

It seems unlikely that Roy and Doug Brown’s father Eugene died in the war as they were born after the war, Roy Brown in 1923 and Doug Brown in 1922. So it is more likely that their uncle John either died in the war or ended his days in hospital. Doug Brown’s family believe that their grandad went back to Ghana.

It is unclear whether Roy and Eugene came from Nigeria or from Ghana to England, though all accounts suggest that they came to England to study.  

Note: In the history of Staffordshire University, the industrialist Alfred Bolton set up college at a site on College Road in Stoke in 1906 for mining classes.

Eugene and John had travelled from either Nigeria or Ghana to study before WWI and their history in England focuses in Staffordshire. Did they study in Stoke, did they study mining there?

Ghana was sometimes called the Gold Coast. The Ashanti Goldfields Corporation for example, was one of the largest at the time and was set up at the turn of the century 1900 by Fante merchants based in Cape Coast – Joseph Etruson Ellis and Chief Joseph Edward Biney along with their accountant, Joseph Peter Brown. They purchased from the king of Bekwai (the Bekwaihene) the right to mine an area of Asante territory spanning 100 square miles around the village of Obuasi, for 100 years.

Stanley Stair

Stanley Stair was the last British West Indies Regiment veteran. He enlisted into the Infantry in 1918. At the end of the war he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Born in October 1900, Stair died in Animal Hill, Lucea, Jamaica, in April 2008 at the age of 107.