Caribbean Regiment soldiers in Egypt
|Engagements||World War II|
There had been resistance from the War Office to form the West Indian regiment but those who made their own way to the UK were able to enlist in the British Army. Nearly 10,000 West Indians travelled and joined the army in Britain.
Following discussion between the Colonial Office and the War Office, the Caribbean Regiment was formed in April 1944 of 1,200 volunteers. The recruits were drawn from all over the British West Indies; most were members of local Volunteer Defence Forces. A few officers and non-commissioned Officers were also drafted in from British Army units.
A detachment of 104 officers and men from the Atlantic island of Bermuda, made up of volunteers (conscription had been introduced to Bermuda shortly after the declaration of war, but those who were drafted to the Caribbean Regiment volunteered to do so) from the Bermuda Militia Artillery and Bermuda Militia Infantry, arrived on two ships, on the 13 and 23 April 1944, to form the training cadre of the new regiment at Fort Eustis, a US Army base near Williamsburg, Virginia. Under the command of Lt. Colonel H. Wilkin, OBE, MC, they prepared for the arrival of detachments from the West Indian islands, each under its own officers. Newly recruited men were tested in Virginia for fitness. With more experience, and a generally higher degree of education, many of the Bermudian men were made non-commissioned officers and distributed around the regiment.
Some of the Caribbean soldiers had already trained for deployment to the Pacific. The Bermudians had previously trained for the war in Europe. The new regiment trained in Virginia, where the regiment was the first to celebrate the King's birthday in the U.S. since the American Revolution.
The Regiment left the USA for Oran, in North Africa, in June 1944. Oran was handed over to Free French Forces before their arrival, and the Regiment went on to Italy in July 1944, where it was employed in general duties behind the front line. In October it escorted 4000 German prisoners of war from Italy to Egypt, where it was used in mine clearance work around the Suez Canal area.
The regiment never saw front line action. This was due partly to inadequate training (with only a single battalion, it had not trained as part of a larger brigade - the smallest unit the British Army normally fielded on its own) and partly because of the anticipated political impact in the British West Indies if heavy casualties had been incurred.
In 1946 it returned to the West Indies and was disbanded.
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