Seventy-two years after the end of the Second World War, Commonwealth soldiers are finally to be honoured with their own memorial. The African and Caribbean War Memorial will be unveiled in Windrush Square, Brixton appropriately enough on Windrush Day, Thursday 22 June.
Many will welcome this belated recognition of the vital role played in both world wars by African and Caribbean servicemen. The initiative received a letter of support from the Queen and has been supported by MPs, high commissioners and military leaders. However, the impetus for the memorial has come from a private body, the Nubian Jak Community Trust (NJCT), rather than any official body.
NJCT said that the aim of the memorial is to “ensure there is a lasting legacy honouring the contribution made by African and Caribbean Military Servicemen and Servicewomen as well as addressing the historical omissions that have been made about their participation”.
In both world wars, most of the African and Caribbean recruits were given non-fighting tasks, which proved just as dangerous and unpleasant as combatant roles. In addition to the dangers of war, they had to put up with discrimination, lower pay, dirtier jobs and a lack of practical support after being demobbed.
In December 1918, resentment at this unequal treatment boiled over in the four-day Taranto Mutiny and, the following year, in strikes and riots in the Caribbean and London. Longer term, the disillusion among returning soldiers from the British West Indies Regiment fed calls for Caribbean independence. That resentment continued into the 21st century, as many of the old soldiers received no pension from their island government or the British government – and until Nubian Jak’s private initiative, no memorial in Britain either.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “These brave individuals, who came from what was formerly the British Empire, sacrificed an enormous amount to defend the freedoms that we now enjoy.”
Related events include 20 June: Launch of the book REMEMBERED: In Memoriam, compiled by Jak Beulah and Nairobi Thompson, at Tate Brixton Library (6.30pm 8.30pm, free)
- 21 June: Play REMEMBERED, Paul Robeson Theatre, Treaty Centre, High St, Hounslow TW3 1ES (7pm–9.30pm, £15)
- 22 June: African & Caribbean Memorial World Celebration Concert, Brixton Jamm, 261 Brixton Rd, London SW9 6LH (6pm–1am, £25)