Image: British West India Regiment troops in France, 1916. Photograph copyright Imperial War Museum
Today in 1918, Black infantrymen and NCOs in the British West India Regiment mutinied against their white commanding officers. These were men who had enlisted for the First World War – the war effort was a popular cause among all races in the Caribbean, Jamaica in particular.
In Lucia’s War, Lucia’s brother Reginald Percival is a newly-promoted sergeant in the First British West India Regiment and is stationed at Taranto when the mutiny breaks out, just a month after the war’s end. He has seen clouds gathering on the seemingly clear horizon for quite some time (and Lucia, having seen how even white objectors are treated, warns him against any show of rebellion) but the scale of white betrayal upsets him. Using the facility of a “green envelope” – a form of communication that avoids the censor – he writes to Lucia telling her his anguish. Of the brutal suppression of the rebellion, the unequal pay, and the imposition of demeaning tasks such as cleaning white Italian men’s lavatories.
As he says in his letter: “I am low in spirit though, because the white men we fought alongside shot us with machine-gun fire. I thought there was honour in battle. I was wrong.“
More information about the mutiny is available here.
Reviews and purchase information for Lucia’s War available here.