They Also Served Exhibition

Our Evening of Remembrance for the African and Caribbean soldiers who served in the First World War was a superb evening of song, dance, poetry and praise. We would like to thank everyone who attended and who performed. Special thanks to Rev. Rose Hudson Wilkin for her keynote speech, to the Archbishop of York for his wonderful letter, and to the Mayor of Birmingham.

For the centenary of WW1 a service and exhibition to honour the contributions of African and Caribbean Servicemen took place in the New Testament Church of God, Handsworth, Birimingham with 600 people present on Sunday 2nd July 2017.

In the presence of the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Bishops, local church leaders, representatives who served in the Armed Forces and young people, Regimental Standards were presented and prayer was offered.

Presentations were made in video, poetry, dance and song, to honour the soldiers, some of whom were named.

The address was given by the Rev’d Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Speaker’s Chaplain in Parliament and a Chaplain to the Queen, and an exhibition, book and video were provided for all guests.

To read the letter from Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York

Tell them

Tell them we were eternally young, believed
in the old lie, how sweet and honorable
to die for the mother country.

Tell them we marched on foreign soil against tyranny,
even when we were called boys, sambos and darkies
but we were men proud to heed Kitchener’s call.

Tell them that gas shells didn’t discriminate,
gas we carried in lungs, luggage that we brought
all the way home long after the war, a lugubrious death.

Tell them that bombs didn’t demarcate where they landed
between the dark and the light skin, bullets didn’t curve
in mid-air making distinctions of the lesser race.

Tell them in quiet moments, we heard our mother’s voices,
desired the kiss of lovers and watched God
in the still of the morning before the rising of hell.

Tell them of guns, howitzers and Canadian 60-pounders
the barrage of sounds both day and night, the incessant din
bursting through tin hats, into sleeps, into dreams, decades later.

Tell them of the silent bullet whispering in the dead of the night
tell them our feet rotted in unforgiving mud
of the eternal misery of body lice to be found everywhere.

Tell them we were Scots with kilts, Sikhs with turbans
an Indian cavalry, a British West Indian regiment
and Cockneys, Cockneys, everywhere at the Somme

Tell them that our blood mingled and bled together
in the frontline, on the battlefields, limbs mangled
on barbed wires, bodies lost in no man’s land.

Tell them we died in the colour of our skins,
our mouths filled with patois and our blood
still warm with the memory of slavery.

Tell them of the Sons of Africa who came to die;
their bodies filled with war cries on the SS Mendi
sinking as brothers danced the death drill side by side.

Tell them of the decision to white wash black troops
from victory celebrations and the Peace March in London
of the names that were not included on the walls of memory.

Tell them of Lionel Turpin the father of Randolph Turpin
Tell them of Walter Tull the Forgotten Hero
Tell them of Norman Manley a Jamaican National Hero

Tell them of Alhaji Grunshi who fired the first shot for Britain
Tell them of Albert and Ethel James, of Private Harold Brown
Of Marcus Bailey, of Herbert Morris, a 17-year-old, shot at dawn
for fleeing the trenches after his nerves had given way.

Tell them after all of this, after the war had finished
we still had to fight in the race riots of 1919.
Tell them of seaman Charles Wotton who was thrown
into the River Mersey and left to drown.

Tell them of the Black Tommy of the Somme
no name, but a picture found amongst hundreds
a reminder that we were there, a reminder to tell them all.

Tell our children and our children’s children, tell them all.

Roy Mcfarlane