What does the independence of former British West Indian territories like Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, Belize, St. Kitts & Nevis, Guyana and others have in common with the independence of African countries like Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Senegal etc.?
How did the activities of West Indians then residing in England, people like George Padmore, Sylvestre Williams and C.L.R. James in the International African Services Bureau, play in these historic times? In spearheading the independence movements in their countries, how were the roles of Black troops from Jamaica, Grenada, Dominica, St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago similar to those of Ghanaians returning in the Gold Coast Regiment from the WWII theatres of war?
Think pensions promised and not paid, particularly to Black troops. Think organizing before, during and after WWII by Black vanguards globally against colonialism. Think American President Franklin D. Roosevelt supporting the Atlantic Charter and its provision to ‘restore self-government’ to peoples deprived of it. And British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, opposing it.
On August 31, 1962, Trinidad & Tobago, under the leadership of Dr. Eric Williams, won independence from Britain. According to my father, formerly a labour activist during the 1930s emergence of the labour movement under Uriah Butler, there were clauses enforced on the ‘independence’ agreement which reflected the ‘perfidious role’ played throughout by the British.
My father’s accusation against the British stemmed from three factors. While two of these will be considered in the future, one considered here was that returned Black soldiers had to fight to obtain a pension from Britain. In the village where I grew up, one such returnee, ‘Ol’ Sol’jah’, seemingly always drunk was, in fact, suffering from carry-over combat effects—diagnosed today as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.
My father never attended Armistice Day events, known in Canada as Remembrance Day.
Britain had vast experience in practising duplicity. It had done the same thing in WWI. InDecember 1915, in Taranto, Italy, Black troops in the West India Regiment demonstrated against the colour bias, generally, and specifically against non-payment of salaries to them, unlike their White counterparts. One of these West Indians was executed, and several jailed for years.
Regarding the difficulty Black Trinis had getting their promised pensions in both World Wars, Britain further imposed on the newly independent Trinidad & Tobago the responsibility of paying pensions to Britishers who had ‘served’ in Trinidad & Tobago during WWII.
My father had also said that in the same way Churchill had, during WWII, his famous ‘V’ for Victory’ sign, so too did returning Black West India Regiment soldiery. They had their ‘Double VV’: ‘Victory against Fascism at home and abroad’. For his activities, my father, an electrical engineer, was among others fired on by the British and wounded in the leg.
In Ghana, African soldiers had also returned after WWII to their homeland, still a British colony. And to similar conditions. These soldiers had been aware of the terms set out by Roosevelt to Churchill in the postwar Atlantic Alliance. Britain was to de-colonize unconditionally. Churchill deferred, eventually presenting a ‘de-colonizing plan’ to the British Parliament. However, no British colony was included; only colonies formerly held by Germany. No surprise here. He had earlier said that he ‘had not been elected Prime Minister to dismantle the British Empire’.
Ghanaian returned soldiers, more than 65,000 in the Gold Coast Regiment, had served in the Burma-China-India theatre. Britain, to stymie nationalist developments among them, had stoked divisive sentiments between these troops: northerners and southerners; divisions which still hamper Ghana’s development today.
Later in 1946, also denied pensions promised and unfulfilled, and to protest the dilapidated conditions to which they’d returned, these soldiers formed the Gold Coast Ex-Servicemen’s Union. In February 1948, they demonstrated outside the British embassy in their uniforms and carrying regimental colours.
Having survived the horrors of war in places like Burma, none expected to be shot and killed that day. The subsequent unrest spread throughout the colony. Their servicemen’s union morphed into the Convention’s People’s Party under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah, then a member of the International African Service Bureau.
Ghana’s independence, like that of Britain’s West Indian colonies, was spearheaded by men who had, with life and blood, defended White people from being colonized by other White people.
To be continued…
Meanwhile, consider the following: How Africa Saved Europe During World Wars, by Paul I. Adujie; and Sanctuary, How Dominica Helped save Guadeloupe and Martinique During WWII by Dr. Andre W. Irving.
By LENNOX FARRELL