British West Indies Regiment Diary
Published account of the arrival of the second contingent of the British West Indies Regiment. Published by The Daily Gleaner, a Jamaican newspaper.
The Daily Gleaner was a Jamaican newspaper, which, as part of its war coverage, published extracts from the letters and diaries of members of the British West Indies Regiment (BWIR). On 4 March 1916, it included this diary extract of an anonymous member of the BWIR’s second contingent written in January and February 1916 when the men first arrived in camp in Seaford, Sussex, which was written especially for the newspaper. Detailing elements of life at camp, the author also considers the place, or rather absence, of women for the newly arrived Jamaican men. ‘Another thing which seems of great importance to a large proportion of the brave Jamaican boys, is that there are no black women in England, a probability to them which is some ways almost a fact [!] and which they dearly hoped for. They are all of the same opinion as Mr. Yankee, quoting one of the lines of one of the many rags of that nation “You can't live without a girl!”’ There were, of course, black women in England but few, if any, in the small Sussex towns where the West Indians were stationed before going to France in 1916. Though the author seems amused that the men thought there would be black women in England, the extract is significant in its recognition of the sexual agency of the West Indian men and their physical and romantic needs. This representation of the West Indian men may have offered reassurance not only to home readers but to those in Britain, too, about potential miscegenation or competition for women between the black men and white British men. This perceived competition for women was a central factor in a 1917 race riot in London’s East End, where working class white men attacked the houses of black men due to perceived infatuation white women had for them. This was a foreshadowing of the 1919 race riots in Britain, including in the cities of London, Liverpool, Cardiff, and Glasgow, a direct consequence of the black and Asian men who were demobbed in Britain and were seen as competitors for jobs, housing, and women.