Uncovering the experiences of African and Caribbean soldiers during WW1

Issue 1 – October 2016

Welcome to the first They Also Served newsletter! I hope that everyone had a good summer. This autumn I look forward to delivering some interesting workshops, presentations and screenings in the West Midlands. Please email me if you would like me to deliver any workshops at your venue!

Project Launch: 14th July 2016

Many thanks to all of you who attended the project launch at the Library of Birmingham in July. We had a very good turnout, and it was great meeting so many of you who are interested in the history of Africans and Caribbeans in the First World War. Thanks also to Nicola Gauld for supporting the event, and it was great to see other project leaders attending and supporting what we are doing. Bishop Joe Aldred introduced proceedings by presenting the background to the project, and emphasising its grounding in the church and broadening out into the wider communities in the West Midlands. I spoke at greater length on the project aims and outcomes, emphasising that one of the main outcomes was a reassessment of the current historical narratives on WW1, and to demonstrate that it is a shared history.

The Q&A session gave the audience the opportunity to ask further questions and to make comments and suggestions, which were duly noted. The audience were fully engaged and made some very good suggestions on how to move forward. There were also calls for collaboration and partnership which were welcomed by the team. One of the suggestions made at the launch was the creation of a steering group led by young people that would help to get them engaged with the project. This suggestion was immediately taken up and I am currently working on facilitating this. This was a successful first event and we look forward to hosting many more throughout the coming year.

Diverse-City and the Great War, Library of Birmingham, 5th September 2016

In September, I attended this event led by the Voices of War and Peace Project, that brought together the different projects on WW1 and beyond in the West Midlands, the North West and South Wales. We heard about a range of projects currently exploring the impact of WW1 on women, people with disabilities, and people of African and Caribbean, Jewish and Indian heritage. It was exciting to learn more about how these projects are including these diverse experiences into the historical narrative. I met some great people that day and plan to follow their progress via the terrific portals and resources they have created.

Research Chronicles: Brigadier General Leonard Shadwell Blackden

Researching the history of black soldiers is a constant source of fascination. I spend much of my time in reading rooms in archives in the South-East, looking for stories to recount of the campaigns these men were involved in, reading reports written by their commanding officers, and uncovering photographs of soldiers in action in Africa, France, Palestine and Egypt. It’s very satisfying work and I look forward to sharing this information in the talks and presentations I’m developing.

This summer I received an email from the granddaughter of Brig. Gen. Leonard Shadwell Blackden, who was the commander of the BWIR stationed in Jamaica, and who accompanied the men to Europe. She gave me the details of her brother, who I discovered had quite a bit of ephemera relating to his grandfather. I wanted to know if Gen. Blackden had written anything about the men under his command. Often, when a relative gets in contact with you, it’s exciting because they may have some documents that are not available in the archives and I was curious to see what he had. I took a train to leafy Buckinghamshire, and was met at the station by Ben Blackden, grandson of the general. He had many old press cuttings of the different battalions of the BWIR marching in Kingston, of men attending the recruitment office, and of their exploits on the battlefield. A welcome addition to the work I’ve already uncovered and I plan to use it in the exhibition.

This autumn….

• I’m working with several church leaders to deliver some workshops with their church membership
• I’ll be giving a talk on 11th November at the Church of God of Prophecy, Aberdeen Street, Winson Green on the British West Indies Regiment, 7.30-9pm

Speak soon, Angelina