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.