As a young child, watching the Remembrance Parade on the TV each year, I wondered why there was never any “black” soldiers. I asked my dad why this was and he replied “would you want to march with those that may have treated you badly”.I did not understand what he meant by this and my dad was a man of few words but that comment was quite profound for me. When we were taught about WW1 in schools back in my childhood, we were never taught about the contributions made by the Commonwealth countries and especially the Caribbean. Until recently, commonwealth soldier's have had their contribution and sacrifices down played, hidden or just completely dismissed from the history books.
Fast forward a few years, I remember being so proud of my cousin who served in the British Army. When asked, he stated that he had experienced racism and he shared some stories, however, I felt that he was not revealing all, but he overcame those situation and carved out a career in the army. Maybe one day, when he is ready, he will reveal more.
2007 I decided to join the Army Reserves otherwise known as the Territorial Army. I was thirty six years of age, a divorcee and a mother. During my experiences serving, there was great opportunists available and taken, challenges experienced and achievements made. However, there was also barriers along the way. When I read of the barriers that serving solider's had experienced whilst serving the British Empire, majority of them continued to display Selfless commitment, respect of Others, Loyalty, Integrity, Discipline, Courage (core values of the Army today) regardless, yet their efforts had little or no acknowledgment, I decide to readdress the balance, not rewrite history.
2014 Countries around the world began marking the start of 100yrs of the outbreak of WW1 of which my unit organised a battlefield tour of the Somme. Whilst learning and understanding the military tactical decisions made and the impact that it had on the war effort, I also was intrigued and moved by the impact that the experiences of war had on the soldier's, their families and their communities, I was moved greatly when visiting the memorials, war grave cemeteries and battlefield sites that have been preserved. It was during this visit I identified questions arising, did any of my family played a part in WW1, to what extent did soldiers from the Caribbean and Africa played a part in the war effort etc.The latter question could not be answered fully by the battlefield tour guide, that was my cue to find out the answers for myself. 'We shall tell their story' was established in 2015 which now incorporates WW2 and other historical milestone of British history in which the commonwealth countries have had a direct impact on the landscape.
Since 2015 to the present day I have been accumulating information, records, books researching online etc and in doing so found that I had a great great uncle from Jamaica who served in WW1 and who is buried in France. With further battlefields tours under my belt ( WW1/WW2), Two charity walks in 2017 and 2018 which we walked sixty eight miles in three days along the front line of WW1 in France and Belgium which sparked my yearning for further learning more about individual solider's and their stories grew. Resources are available but difficult to obtain at times, books on the contribution of the commonwealth soldier's are far and few between and most importantly, what has been noted when speaking to people especially from the BAME communities, that they felt that their family member who gave their service in WW1 and WW2 effort was not seen as something to be acknowledged as they felt that their contribution was deemed insignificant by some members of society.
Through working in collaboration with individuals, families, schools, community sectors etc there is evident of a very big appetite in this work and that they (individuals) too can tell their story of family/community member who has contributed is a big factor. There is also an interest by individuals that want to research their family tree and who may have took part in the war efforts. By encouraging a conversation to take place, research skills learnt, putting of an incomplete jigsaw puzzle of information together, we will build a record archive and exhibiting the findings of a truer bigger picture of a history that reflects our communities today. This will show that as a community, and country that we have have more in common as a nation then we may realize . That those who contributed despite experiencing barriers and discrimination, never wavered in duty to serve for the greater good and that they gave the ultimate sacrifice. We owe it to the memories of those who sacrificed their today's for our tomorrow's and for those who on returned home, to fight their own personal battles.
Lest We Forget