The African and Caribbean War Memorial at Windrush Square in Brixton tells the story of the long involvement of African and Caribbean people in British military service. This is a story of sacrifice and commitment. In the past, Caribbeans have had to overcome obstacles just to volunteer to serve. Their tenaciousness to prove themselves and serve Great Britain in World War Two was more than a match for some of the negativity they faced; so serve these men and women did, with great bravery and professionalism.
Themes of selflessness, loyalty, physical and moral courage recur with the Windrush Generation and resonate strongly with the British Army today. Selfless commitment, Courage, moral courage (Integrity) and Loyalty are four of the six values which underpin service in the modern Army. (The others are Respect for Others and Discipline). The Windrush Generation set the bar high for their successors and we owe them a great debt of gratitude for the freedoms we now enjoy. Soldiers of Caribbean heritage serve today. Their forebears would be proud of what they continue to achieve, building on the legacy of the Windrush Generation.
The Windrush Generation are linked to Great Britain and the Army through their service in World War Two. Many of the people that arrived on the SS Empire Windrush served during the war but their service to Britain did not stop there. When they came to Britain, they helped rebuild an economy badly damaged by 6 years of war and enriched British culture.
During World War Two, approximately 16,000 Caribbean men and women served in many capacities. All were volunteers, motivated by the common good of defending democracy. On the outbreak of war, every section of Caribbean society co-operated to contribute to the war effort, a real measure of loyalty to Britain. Their loyalty was not fleeting. By 1940, the Jamaican Legislature had expressed a desire to raise 25,000 men to contribute to the war effort. By 1942, several hundred Caribbeans were serving with over 40 different Army Corps and many more in our sister services. (This article concentrates on the Army but Caribbeans made great contributions to the Navy, RAF and Auxiliary Services). The Caribbean Regiment was formed in 1944, drawing men from across the Caribbean. The Regiment did not see front line service, through no fault of the men in its ranks. This was a missed opportunity. Caribbeans proved their mettle, winning Victoria Crosses in 1866 and 1892, plus 81 medals for bravery and 49 mentions in dispatches in World War One. In spite of the frustrations of not seeing front line service, the men of the Caribbean Regiment served with dignity and discipline.
The continuity of the Caribbean contribution is demonstrated by the service in the British Army of Caribbean soldiers today. Perhaps the most well-known of these is Sergeant Johnson Beharry. Whilst serving with the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment in Iraq 2004, he was awarded the Victoria Cross for repeated bravery under fire. Despite putting himself in mortal danger, Beharry saved the lives of many of his comrades. Beharry’s story brings this article full circle. Although not part of the Windrush Generation, Sgt Beharry demonstrates the Carribeans continued contribution to the British Army. He demonstrates selfless commitment, loyalty and courage which are those attributes the Windrush Generation repeatedly demonstrated, both during the war and upon starting new lives in a new country.