Jamaica was one of Britain’s oldest and most valuable colonies. The island was captured from Spain in 1655 and became a major sugar, rum and tobacco producer during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. By the outbreak of the First World War Jamaica was poised to play an active role: in 1914 Jamaica donated £50,000 worth of sugar to Britain and set aside £10,000 to defend the island. It was the only island to have a permanent Imperial garrison when war began. The population ensured their ambitions to participate were fulfilled by applying pressure on the British Government to allow West Indians to participate in frontline action. Jamaica was one of the larger islands in the Caribbean with a population of 850,000 in 1914 and at the time also governed the Cayman Islands. The Jamaican Volunteer Defence Force, the Jamaican Constabulary Force and the Jamaica Militia artillery were all tasked with protecting the island during the conflict.
A War Contingent Committee was established in 1915 to raise funds for 200 Jamaicans who wished to serve abroad but could not afford the cost of travel. The Kingston Women’s Fund Committee organised fundraising activities for Jamaican volunteers and proved to be key to the establishment of the British West Indies Regiment by virtue of their success. 10,280 Jamaicans served in the British West Indies Regiment.
The West India Regiment, founded in 1795, had been based on the island since the Napoleonic Wars and fought in the African Campaigns during the First World War. The Regiment earned the battle honours “Cameroons 1914-16″ and “East Africa 1914-18″ for service during the conquest of Germany’s African colonies. They served at the battles of Yaoundé, Dar Es Salaam and Nyangao.
Jamaica’s involvement in the First World War is documented thoroughly in Frank Cundall’s Jamaica’s Part in the Great War which you can read on this website for free in the Archive section.