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Huge and Mighty Men of Valour

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Sir Trevor McDonald presents the untold story of the West Indies' role in the British Empire's war effort in the Great War and how the soldiers' experiences helped to sow the seeds of independence for the islands later in the Twentieth Century.

Until 1915 the War Office was reluctant to recruit West Indian troops until heavy losses changed their perspective and thousands of young men willingly signed up to serve King and Country in the newly formed British West Indies Regiment, surviving perilous north Atlantic crossings to train for war in England - the first time that the vast majority of them had left the island of their birth.

Such was their physical fitness and willingness to work that they were dubbed 'Huge and Mighty Men of Valour' by contemporary newspapers.

However, rather than fighting the Central Powers in Europe, many troops found themselves in manual or administrative roles with relatively few seeing frontline action. Those that did fought mainly in Africa or the Middle East where they served with bravery and distinction, despite the initial misgivings of the top brass.

Racism and poor conditions at the end of the War resulted in a mutiny and the radicalisation of many troops which, upon their return home, helped to sow the seeds of self-determination which rattled the colonial powers and eventually led to the forming of a coherent independence movement.

Drawing from archive provided by the West India Committee, we tell the recruits' story from the perspective of military and social historians, politicians, contemporary soldiers, including Johnson Beharry VC, and relatives of some of these men of valour who reveal the reason why they signed up to fight and what happened to them when they finally made it home.
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