The role of the 1st
& 2nd Battalions of the British West Indies
in September 1918
years of warfare British and Arab forces had pushed their Turkish foe
northwards from the Suez Canal to a line running roughly from Jaffa
on the Mediterranean coast to the north of the Dead Sea.
commander in the theatre, General Sir Edmund H.H. Allenby, had recently reorganised his forces,
sending infantry divisions to France
and receiving cavalry divisions in return.
The new German commander of the predominantly Turkish Ottoman force
facing Allenby’s men was General Otto Liman von Sanders. He decided to stand and hold his
well-prepared defences. Allenby planned
an attack northwards which became known as the Battle of Megiddo.
instructed the New Zealand
Major General Edward W.C. Chaytor to protect the British right flank against
elements of the Ottoman Fourth Army.
Chaytor was to occupy the attention of the Turks on his flank and
prevent them from moving west across the River Jordan to support their comrades
who would be facing Allenby’s assault. Chaytor
was then to advance to Amman and meet with Britain’s Arab allies operating against the Hejaz railway.
- ‘Chaytor Force’, as it was named, consisted
- The Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division - The 20th Indian Infantry
Brigade - The 38th and 39th
Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers (both being battalions of Jewish
soldiers) - The 1st and 2nd
Battalions of the British West Indies
The British West Indies
Before the war
the only British infantrymen recruited from the West
Indies were soldiers enlisted to serve in the West India Regiment
(WIR). This was an Imperial regiment,
financed by Britain, which
served in the Caribbean and West Africa. Most of the soldiers were recruited in Jamaica.
On the outbreak
of war many Caribbean man volunteered to serve
in the British Army but for reasons of social prestige and identity they did
not wish to enlist in the WIR. In
November 1915 a new corps was formed named The British West Indies
Regiment. Recruits came from Barbados, Bahamas,
British Guiana, British Honduras, Jamaica, Trinidad
and Tobago, Grenada,
St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the
Leeward Islands. The rank and file was almost entirely
composed of black West Indian men.
Eleven infantry battalions were raised to serve in France, Italy,
East Africa and Egypt, and a
contingent from British Honduras served in Mesopotamia.
the senior echelons of the British Army were reluctant to expose the BWIR to
offensive operations in Europe, unlike their French counterparts who used black
troops in combat rolls in France
without hesitation. So the BWIR, much to
its frustration, was mainly used on labouring and guard duties and on
specialised ammunition re-supply tasks. An
artillery officer observed that whilst a white man could handle three tons of
shells in a day, a British West Indian could move five tons. Despite this hard work, when the pay of the
British soldier was increased under Army Order I of 1918 the increment was
withheld from British West Indies
soldiers. It took determined lobbying
by, amongst others, seven former West Indian Governors before this injustice
But in Palestine in September
1918 the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the BWIR met a General
who had confidence in them and who wished to use them as infantrymen. He was Edward Chaytor.
Above: A crossing in the Jordan Valley today
Chaytor Force advances
attack by British and French troops on the Coastal Plane started on 19th September 1918. To support it Chaytor Force had been
vigorously patrolling on the west bank of the Jordan Valley
from the 17th September. On
the afternoon of 19th September an opportunity arose for the British
to move against the Turks defending the area of Bakr Ridge. Fire support was
available from the 19th (Maymyo) Mountain Battery, Indian Army,
which was operating in the brigade immediately to the west of Chaytor Force.
Indians came under the command of another New Zealander, Brigadier General
William (Bill) Meldrum, and he ordered the 2nd BWIR to attack the
ridge to the south of the Bakr feature. Despite
facing heavy artillery and machine gun fire three companies of 2nd
BWIR assaulted this ridge, seizing it and driving off the enemy outposts for
the loss of 35 West Indian casualties.
The following morning before first light 2nd BWIR continued
advancing and seized Bakr Ridge itself.
Right: Chayter Force movement
Also on that
morning, the 20th September, 1st BWIR was ordered to
attack and seize Grant Hill and Baghalat.
Spurred on to emulate their Caribbean
colleagues on Bakr Ridge, the 1st BWIR infantrymen went into the
attack in artillery formation, advancing for 1,600 yards (1,463 metres) under
heavy-shell fire. Both objectives were seized.
Two men in 1st BWIR were awarded Distinguished Conduct Medals
for gallant actions.
503 Lance Corporal
R. Turpin (from La Brea, Trinidad) was cited:
For great gallantry and devotion to duty at Baghalat, Jordan
Valley, on the 20th
September 1918. As soon as
one company of his battalion had occupied that place, he, under heavy shell
fire, ran a signal wire from Musallaheh to Baghalat, a matter of two miles (3.2 kilometres). Later in the day he went out
on four occasions under heavy fire and repaired the wire, which had been cut by
enemy artillery fire.
6357 Private H.
Scott (from St. Anns, Jamaica) was cited:
For great gallantry and devotion to duty on the 20th September 1918. When a company of the battalion had occupied
Baghalat, he volunteered to carry a message from that place to Grant Ridge. Under very heavy shell fire he crossed the
700 yards (640 metres) of open ground and delivered his message.
Fighting for the Jordan crossings
followed up hard on the heels of the now retreating Turks, who sometimes turned
back and offered a tough fight. Meldrum
was ordered to concentrate his men for an attack on the crossing over the River
Jordan at Jisr ed Damiye. A British
attack went in on 22nd September but the New Zealanders of the Auckland
Regiment were forced back by an enemy counter attack. Lieutenant Colonel C. Wood Hill, Commanding
Officer of 1st BWIR, was ordered to march to the crossing
immediately. At 1050 hours a second
assault on the crossing went in supported by the guns of the Inverness Battery,
Royal Horse Artillery, and the 29th (Murree) Mountain Battery,
Right: Jisr ed Damieh crossing
and New Zealanders charged, competing to be the first to get at the Turks with
their bayonets. The West Indians won and
the enemy rear guard was broken. A troop
of the Auckland Regiment, standing-by with their mounts, galloped straight
through and captured the crossing.
Major Alfred Ernest Albert Harragin, 1st BWIR, later received a
Distinguished Service Order for:
Gallantry and successful leadership of his company
on the 22nd
September 1918, at Damieh bridgehead, Jordan Valley. He and his company took over 100 prisoners
and three machine guns, and were responsible for about 50 killed and wounded of
the enemy. He did splendid work.
W.E. Julian (from St. Georges,
BWIR, received a Distinguished Conduct Medal:
For gallantry and devotion to duty at Damieh Bridgehead, Jordan Valley, on the 22nd September 1918. He commanded his platoon with the utmost
efficiency in the attack on the bridgehead, and after the successful assault he
re-organised his platoon and led them with great gallantry over the broken
ground, which was still occupied by the enemy, capturing two machine guns and a
number of prisoners.
BWIR, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel J.H. Poe, had been ordered to an
adjacent river crossing at Mafid Jozele.
Here the battalion, supported by the 3rd Australian Light
Horse, attacked and drove in the enemy rear guard and took many prisoners. Temporary Major William Llewellyn Thomas, 2nd
BWIR, later received a Distinguished Service Order:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on 22nd September 1918,
at Mafid Joseh. On learning that an
officer’s patrol was fighting a rearguard action against vastly superior
numbers, he took up a platoon and kept the enemy in check until the remainder
of the battalion had arrived as reinforcements.
The enemy were driven back. He
displayed great initiative in the subsequent attack, which resulted in the
capture of Mafid Joseh and forty prisoners.
At last the
West Indians in Palestine
had been allowed to display their courage and military abilities as
infantrymen. This was largely due to the
progressive attitudes of two Antipodean formation commanders, whose military
minds were fresh and uncluttered with the distortions and prejudices harboured
by other more traditionally-minded British military commanders.
advanced and seized Amman
before the Turks capitulated on 30th October 1918. The British West Indies Regiment was
disbanded in 1921. Its Battle Honours
were not inherited by any other Caribbean
Honours awarded to the British West India Regiment for service in Egypt and Palestine:
Awards to the British West Indies Regiment for service
in Egypt and Palestine: Distinguished Service Order
(Temporary Lieutenant Colonel) Charles Wood Hill, West India Regiment attached
to 1st BWIR.
(Temporary Lieutenant Colonel) John Hugh Poe, 2nd BWIR.
William James Bensly, 1st BWIR.
Captain Robert John Craig, 1st BWIR.
Alfred Ernest Albert Harragin, 1st BWIR, (Trinidad).
William Llewellyn Thomas MC, 2nd BWIR.
Captain George Sargent Cox, 2nd BWIR.
Captain Robert John Craig, 1st BWIR, (British
Captain Paul Ewart Cressall, 1st BWIR.
Captain) Ralph Haverlock Lewis Fink, West India Regiment attached to 1st
George Basil Porter, Canterbury Rifles, New Zealand, attached to 1st
Captain William Llewellyn Thomas, 1st BWIR.
Above: Believed to be LCpl Leekam receiving his MM from General Chaytor
Distinguished Conduct Medal
W.E. Julien, 1st BWIR, (St.
6357 Private H.
Scott, 1st BWIR, (St. Anns,
Corporal R. Turpin, 1st BWIR, (La Brea,
A Distinguished Conduct Medal for a Regimental
Serjeant Major (Acting Regimental Sergeant Major) E. Addicott, 3rd
Bn Royal Berkshire Regiment attached 1st BWIR.
For devotion to duty and constant good work. He is a regular soldier with twenty-three
years’ service, and has been acting as RSM of the 1st British West Indies Regiment for the last two and a half
years. He has shown a fine example to
all ranks, whether in action or at other times.
772 Private C.
Babb, 1st BWIR.
For gallantry in attempting to save a man from
drowning at Rafa.
Decorations conferred by His Highness the Sultan of
Order of the Nile
(Temporary Lieutenant Colonel) Charles Wood Hill DSO, 1st BWIR.
Order of the Nile
Cyril James Farquharson, 2nd BWIR.
(The above list
of awards is unlikely to be complete, and some of the Military Medals may have
been awarded for service in other theatres, as the London Gazette details do
not always specify battalion or theatre.
The 1st and 2nd BWIR sent detachments to East Africa.)