Richard Smith
Jamaican Volunteers in the First World War

(Manchester University Press, 2004)

This book traces the experiences of Jamaicans who served in the British army in the First World War to provide fresh insight into the Imperial dimensions of the war. Since it was published, I have received many enquiries from Jamaicans and other West Indians who are trying to find out about their ancestors who fought in the First World War. I am always happy to receive such enquiries and will do my best to answer them directly and/or point you towards other advice or sources. Please contact me by email r.w.smith@gold.ac.uk in the first instance.

The book shows how the reluctance of British army recruiters to accept West Indian volunteers was rooted in the belief that black men lacked the qualities necessary for modern warfare. Equally significant were fears of white racial degeneration and concerns surrounding the psychological response of many white men to the war. To preserve established hierarchies of race and masculinity, black soldiers were largely excluded from the front line and confined to labour battalions.

This study also provides a comprehensive discussion of the war's impact on anti-colonial struggles in Jamaica. Although barred from front-line duties, the author shows that Jamaican veterans appropriated the imagery of heroism and military sacrifice. These came to comprise a key element of post-war social and economic struggles in Jamaica that culminated in the nationalist upsurge of the late 1930s.

This is a lively and accessible account that will prove invaluable to those studying the Imperial dimensions of the First World War, as well as readers interested in wider notions of race and masculinity in the British Empire, warfare and black history.


1. Degeneration and male hysteria: the wartime crisis of white masculinity
2. ‘The cannon’s summoning roar’: Jamaica and the outbreak of war
3. The recruitment of Jamaican volunteers
4. Jamaican soldiers in Europe and the Middle East
5. ‘Their splendid physical proportions’: the black soldier in the white imagination
6. Discrimination and mutiny
7. Military endeavour, nationalism and Pan-Africanism

Buy at in hardback or NEW paperback edition from 31 October 2009.