The Napoleonic Wars began in 1793 when Britain declared war on Revolutionary France. Britain found itself short of troops on the ground to recapture the French Islands and to remedy this situation they called for the recruitment of slaves. Two regiments of 1000 men known as the West India Regiments were formed. On enlistment the slaves automatically became free men and paid as British soldiers The pay of the black soldier is ninepence per diem, against a shilling per diem to the white. By 1800 twelve regiments had been raised.The second West Indian Regiment played an invaluable part in the recovery of the islands and earned itself the reputation of a formidable fighting force. They went on to serve the British Army for 120 years.
The difference between Barbadains and Jamaicans is as great as between an American and an Englishman. It is actualy said the diffrence was so great that Jamacians did not care to enlist in the 2nd West India Regiment, which is largely recruited in Barbados; and, in the same way, the Barbadian declines to serve in the 1st West India Regiment, because it is almost entirely composed of Jamaicans.
The West India troops won the highest encomiums from every British commander under whom they served. Sir Ralph Abercromby in 1796, Sir John Moore in 1797, Lieutenant-General Trigge in 1801, Sir George Provost in 1805, Lieutenant-General Beckwith and Major-General Maitland in 1809 and 1810, all testified to the gallantry, steadiness, and discipline of the soldiers. Sir John Moore, speaking of the new corps in 1796, said "they are invaluable," and "the very best troops for the climate."
In 1873 the 2nd West India Regiment bore for six months the entire brunt of the Ashanti attack, and had actually forced the invading army to retire across the Prah before the men of a single line battalion were landed. In fact, the efficiency of West India troops was, and is, unquestioned.
The 2nd West Indian Regiment fought in many wars some of the most memorable are listed bellow:
The First Ashanti War
The Cage Coote Expadition
The Badiboo War
The Quiah War
The 2nd Asanti War
The Pram Pram Expedition
The Gambia Expedition
The Ashanti Expedition
The Regiment also went on to fight in the First World War and saw action in East and West Africa as well as Palestine. The WIR soldiers became a valued part of the British forces garrisoning the West Indies, where losses from disease and climate were heavy amongst white troops.
The 2nd Battalion were sent from Kingston to West Africa in the second half of 1915. They took part in the capture of Yaounde in January 1916. The Regiment was subsequently awarded the battle honour "Cameroons 1914-16". The 2nd Battalion, which had been divided into detachments, was brought together in Freetown in April 1916 and sent to Mombassa in Kenya, to take part in the East African campaign against German colonial forces based in German East Africa.
The five hundred and fifteen officers and men of the 2nd Battalion formed part of a column that took Dar es Salaam on 4 September 1916. After garrison duty, the battalion subsequently played a distinguished part in the Battle of Nyangao German East Africa in October 1917. For their service in East Africa the WIR earned eight Distinguished Conduct Medals, as well as the battle honour "East Africa 1914-18".
Following their active service in German Africa the 2nd Battalion of the West India Regiment was shipped to Suez in September 1918. It was then transferred to Lydda in Palestine where it spent the two remaining months of the War.
After the war, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the West India Regiment were amalgamated into a single 1st Battalion in 1920. This was disbanded in 1927. The reasons for disbandment were primarily economic. The West Indies had long been a peaceful military backwater with limited defence requirements and the substitute role under which the WIR had provided a single battalion as part of the garrison in Britain's West African possessions had become redundant as local forces were raised and expanded there. Today the colours of the 1st Regiment hang in Windsor Castle after being handed over to King George the V.
The Uniform of the regment was called the Zouave uniform and was sanctioned by Queen Victoria in 1858. She had admired the uniform of the Zouave Algerian tribe which had been incorporated into the French army. On the disbandment of the West Indian Regiments in 1927 the band of the Barbados Volunteer Force retained the uniform which is still worn by the Barbados Defence Force Band today.
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