West Indian Ex-Services Association
COMMEMORATION OF GREAT WAR GRAVES from Seaford
The West Indian Ex-Service Association (Wiesa) was set up to
recognise the military service of West Indian people and to help
care for veterans. During the two World Wars thousands served in
British forces, while at home their children saved pennies
to help the war effort.
At Seaford in
East Sussex there are some 300 graves of Great War
casualties. Alongside the graves of Canadian,
British, and Irish casualties are 19 from the
British West Indies Regiment. Between October 1915
and March 1916 Seaford was a training camp for West
Indian men, with the first group of 750 arriving on
4th October 1915.
It was to rededicate memorial plaques
for those buried at Seaford that representatives from civilian and service
life gathered at the WIESA HQ at Clapham Manor Road.
London, on 22nd May 2007.
Major Glen Lindsay MC, a veteran of decades in the military,
was the Master of Ceremonies, and the beginning of the ceremony
was announced by buglers from the London Irish Rifles.
The opening prayers were led by the Deputy Chaplain General
The Venerable Stephen Robbins. He spoke of the
pride of serving the crown and defending the true
values and standards of Britain, and looked forward
to the future when all men and women would respect one another
as fellow human beings.
There were a number of speakers. Among them
The President of Wiesa, Neil
Flanagan MBE introduced the Mayor of Lambeth. "Lambeth Borough
Council received and sheltered the migrants on the
SS Empire Windrush." Many on that vessel were
ex-service personnel, coming to work in the UK
during post-war reconstruction.
The Worshipful Mayor of Lambeth,
Cllr Liz Atkinson. "A third of the forces in the
Great War came from the Empire, and they must have
their rightful place in history."
Cllr Lorna Campbell, Deputy Cabinet
Member of Community Liaison with Lambeth Council.
"We must honour the memory of our War Veterans."
Commander David Coffey from the Canadian
for Mr James Wright. "What we
have in common, men and women who put the service of
their country and the Commonwealth before all else.
That is why we are here today, to thank them."
Mr Jonathan Iremonger, Director of the Veterans
Policy Unit, bearing greetings form Veterans
Minister Derek Twigg,. "The government is committed to
Veterans and to the care of those who served; a key
part in this are the ex-service organisations who
have the local support, enthusiasm, commitment and
The High Commissioner of St Vincent and the
Grenadines, Mr Cerio Lewis. "I believe in peace
but we must sometimes defend that peace, and war may be
necessary to defend democracy and freedom." He added
that 500 people from the Grenadines were on active
service, and emphasised that "whether black, white or yellow we are of one
single race, the human race."
Major Jim MacLoud, representing the Irish Rifles.
"Irish guards are on active service now." He added
that "men from
Irish regiments were buried at Seaford", and
revealed that the 19th century Inniskillings named
their barracks "St Lucia barracks" after the
West Indian island.
Phil Vasili, who researched Walter Tull. "He
obtained respect from a quiet inner strength". He
added that there has been an early days motion
supporting a statue on the White Cliffs to
commemorate Walter Tull, and that it would be good
if the Military Cross, for which Walter Tull had
been recommended, could now be awarded, "for his
family and as a symbolic award for all black people
in the British army".
Laurent Philpot introduced Cy Grant.
"There were 7000 volunteers from the Caribbean for
the RAF alone, and 400 who became air crew." ...
"before 1941 there was a bar on men of colour
joining the RAF." After this date many became
navigators as they were still unlikely to be
accepted as pilots.
Cy Grant, entertainer, spoke of being shot down
over Holland, and becoming a prisoner of war. The
last camp he was in, before liberation, he described
as "hell". An especial photograph was
taken of him and published in an enemy newspaper
with the caption "a member of the RAF of
Constance Mark, WWII Veteran, who had joined the army
in 1941. "When I'm asked what nationality I am, I say I am British and proud of it. English is the only
language I speak"
Eddie Capone the WIESA Chairman. "The Military
never sleep." He announced a national fund-raising
appeal for ex-service people, explaining that "8 out
of 10 rough sleepers are ex-service." He added that
it is "the only profession where we sign to give our
very lives" and underlined the great debt they are
owed. He added that in Greek philosophy if a name is
spoken that person lives on, and welcomed the Dover
War Memorial Project and its work of remembrance.
Eddie Capone then unveiled, with Cllr Atkinson,
the Seaford plaques. "A step further in gratitude
for these men". The panels were created by Teresa
Earle (below, right) and helpers.
The Last Post, the Silence, and the
Reveille followed the unveiling of the plaques.
Eddie Capone gave a vote of thanks and
proposed the toast to The Queen. The ceremony closed with
final prayers, and all were then invited to enjoy, as Eddie
put it, "traditional West Indian hospitality". The party
went on into the night.
Note: a number
of the Inniskilling Fusiliers present had memories of being
stationed in Dover, at the Connaught Barracks
Simon John Chambers