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Your favourite Black History circular is back! For our first monthly circular, in celebration of Remembrance Day on 11th November, we are highlighting the contributions made by people of the global majority to the war effort during World War I. 

"In most of the nations who engaged in the conflict, the role played by the four million non-white non-Europeans who fought and laboured on the western front – and in other theatres of the war in Africa, the Middle East and Asia – has been airbrushed from popular memory".
David Olusago 'Black soldiers were expendable - then forgettable' Guardian Sun 11 Nov 2018

Be Inspired

Words that can change your world

"Freedom is not something that one people can bestow on another as a gift. They claim it as their own and none can keep it from them." Kwame Nkrumah

Words, Rhythm, Harmony
Poetry new & old

The Gift of India

Written in 1915 by the Indian poet, freedom fighter and politician Sarojini Naidu 

Is there aught you need that my hands withhold,
Rich gifts of raiment or grain or gold?
Lo! I have flung to the East and West
Priceless treasures torn from my breast,
And yielded the sons of my stricken womb
To the drum-beats of duty, the sabres of doom.

Gathered like pearls in their alien gravès
Silent they sleep by the Persian waves,
Scattered like shells on Egyptian sands,
They lie with pale brows and brave, broken hands,
They are strewn like blossoms mown down by chance
On the blood-brown meadows of Flanders and France.

Can ye measure the grief of the tears I weep
Or compass the woe of the watch I keep?
Or the pride that thrills thro' my heart's despair
And the hope that comforts the anguish of prayer?
And the far sad glorious vision I see
Of the torn red banners of Victory?

When the terror and tumult of hate shall cease
And life be refashioned on anvils of peace,
And your love shall offer memorial thanks
To the comrades who fought in your dauntless ranks,
And you honour the deeds of the deathless ones,
Remember the blood of my martyred sons!


Spotlight on... Troops from the Empire

Walter Tull - Photo: public domain
Walter Tull was a British professional footballer and army officer of Caribbean descent. He was born in Folkestone, Kent in 1888 to an English mother and Barbadian father (his paternal grandfather was a slave in Barbados). After World War I broke out he enlisted and served in the two Football Battalions of the Middlesex regiment, quickly rising to the ranks of Sergeant. He fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

When Tull was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1917, he became one of the first mixed-heritage officers in the British Army, at a time when the 1914 Manual of Military Law excluded soldiers not "natural born or naturalised British subjects of pure European descent" - thereby becoming the first Black officer to lead white British soldiers into battle. With the 23rd Battalion, Tull fought on the Italian Front from November 1917 to March 1918, where he was praised for his "gallantry and coolness". The battalion returned to Northern France in March 1918, where Walter Tull was killed in action during the German Army's Spring Offensive. His body was never found, and his name is commemorated on the Arras memorial of soldiers with no known graves.
The British West Indies Regiment in camp during the Somme Offensive, 1916 - Photo: public domain
Although Walter Tull made history as the first Black British officer, many soldiers of colour fought for Britain and the Allies. After Britain joined the First World War in August 1914, Black recruits could be found in all branches of the armed forces, both Black Britons and West Indians from British colonies. They travelled to the ‘Mother Country’ from the Caribbean often at their own expense to take part in the fight against the Germans. In 1915, a proposal for a separate West Indian contingent to aid the war effort was approved and the British West Indies Regiment (BWIR) was formed as a separate Black unit within the British Army. By the war’s end in November 1918, a total of 15,204 black men had served in the BWIR. They were mostly led by white officers and used as non-combatant soldiers tasked with loading ammunition, laying telephone wires and digging trenches, but they were not permitted to fight as a battalion.

In addition, soldiers from Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, Gambia and other African colonies were recruited to help defend the borders of their countries which adjoined German territories in Africa. Throughout the war, 60,000 Black South African and 120,000 other Africans also served in uniformed Labour Units.
A company of 15th Sikhs in France, 1915 - Photo: public domain

Indian men also contributed substantially to the World War I effort: over 1 million Indian troops served overseas and more than 74,000 lost their lives. Indian troops began arriving on the Western Front from September 1914, and played a crucial role in the second battle of Ypres, for which Khudadad Khan became the first Indian to be awarded a Victoria Cross. However, their contribution was not widely recognised after the war.

Elsewhere among Allied powers, France also drew on the population of its colonies for the war effort. The Foreign Legion fought in many critical battles on the Western Front, including Somme and Verdun (in 1917), and also suffered heavy casualties during 1918. Some of the most distinguished French African soldiers were part of 21 battalions of the Tirrailleurs Senegalais, with over 170,000 West African troops fighting in World War I - in Senegal alone, over 1/3 of men of military age were mobilised. More than 350,000 African American men also served in segregated units during the War.

Read more about Black and Asian soldiers' contributions to the British war effort here and here.
Food Lovers
Recipes from the sun-kissed lands
The Spruce / Cara Cormack

Trinidad Pelau Chicken and Pigeon Peas
By Cynthia Nelson author of Tastes Like Home

Trini Pelau is an iconic dish of pigeon peas, meat or chicken that is cooked with fresh herbs, and coconut milk. The entire dish is flavoured and coloured with burnt sugar.

This pelau is a one-pot dish that is made on weekends and especially when family and friends get together for a lime (Caribbean slang word for get-together).

Get the recipe here

"Did you know?"

Fun & Interesting Facts
The Cost of War
More than 2 million Africans, civilians and soldiers alike, were killed in World War I. 

More than 1 million Indian soldiers served in World War I as part of the British India Army, and more than 74,000 died in the conflict.

The first shot in WW1 was fired in Togo on 4th August 1914 by Lance Corporal Alhaji Grunshi, an African Muslim soldier of the Gold Coast Regiment.

Keep Exploring
Read , Watch, Listen


Black Poppies - Britain's Black community and the Great War by Stephen Bourne
In 1914 Britain was home to at least 10,000 black Britons, most of whom were loyal to the ‘mother country’ when the First World War broke out. Despite being discouraged from serving in the British Army, men managed to join all branches of the forces, while black communities contributed to the war effort on the home front. By 1918 it is estimated that Britain’s black population had trebled to 30,000, as many black servicemen who had fought for Britain decided to make it their home. It was far from a happy ending, however, as they and their families often came under attack from white ex-servicemen and civilians.

Beyond the Western Front - WW1 Uncut
Historian David Olusoga looks at how the First World War was fought on many fronts by soldiers from around the world. And its legacy has never been more relevant than it is today.

This BBC statistics podcast More or Less's short episode investigates the claim that 30% of soldiers fighting for the British Army in WWI were Black or Asian (with a bonus section on debunking whether Black troops fought for the Confederacy in the American Civil War).

What's On
News & Events

Chila Kumari Singh Burman's Winter commission at Tate Britain

Burman transforms the front of Tate Britain into a celebration of bright lights and swirling colour combining Hindu mythology, Bollywood imagery, colonial history and personal memories. Inspired by the artist’s childhood visits to the Blackpool illuminations and her family’s ice-cream van, Burman covers the façade of Tate Britain with vinyl, bling and lights.

On until 31st January 2021, and perfect for socially distanced viewing

Black Cultural Archives Black History Quiz
Saturday 5th December 7-9pm (£5)

Spend an evening testing your knowledge of Black history from the comfort of your own home with leading historian Patrick Vernon, founder of 100 Great Black Britons. This event is run by the BCA Friends Committee, a group of volunteers who dedicate their time to fundraising for Black Cultural Archives.
This month's issue was compiled by
Terrie Fiawoo & Francesca Cavallaro from ICH Population, Policy & Practice Research &  Teaching Department
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Celebrating Black History Month 2020 Circular Archive

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