Posts Tagged ‘Mutinies’

History Debunked on the Racist Lies about the Treatment Black World War I Soldiers Told by Bristol Black History Prof

December 4, 2021

This is another video by History Debunked’s Simon Webb, in which he critically debunks a film produced by the BBC for their Black History season. This is a talk by Olivette Otele, the vice-president of the Historical Society and professor of slavery at Bristol University, about the treatment of Black soldiers from the West Indian regiment during the First World War. It’s a subject Webb knows something about, having written a book about the events of 1918 and 1919. What disturbs Webb is that the young Black members of the production team are encouraged to get involved and feel aggrieved about racism, showing that this is not objective history by propaganda.

She shows them pictures and film of Black World War I soldiers, and states that nobody knows about them. Webb says that this is possible, as they may simply have gone to bad schools or just not known about them. But she goes on to say that the British army didn’t want Blacks to join because they were afraid it would upset notions of White superiority. This sounds convincing, until you realise that one million Indians served in the British army during the War, of whom 75,000 were killed. She complains that the Black regiment had to serve in Egypt and the Middle East, but so did the Australians and New Zealanders at Gallipolli and the Dardanelles. She says in a sad voice that some were labouring and were killed. Well, this happens in wars, and the men weren’t conscripts but volunteers. The West Indians were also fighting, but you wouldn’t have realised this from what she was saying. She also states that after the end of the War, while White soldiers celebrated the Blacks had to do the laundry and clean the latrines. But Webb points out that soldiers still had to do duties even after the cessation of hostilities. Webb wonders if she knew that White soldiers were also moaning about this and wanted to be demobbed. Has she not heard of the many mutinies at the time. She also claims that the White soldiers got a pay rise that was denied to Blacks. This was due to a mix-up, but the Black soldiers did eventually get their money. But the mix-up also affected other colonial troops such as Indians and Australians. She’s angry at the suppression of various mutinies, but until the armistice Britain was still technically at War. There was a similar mutiny of White British soldiers at Southampton. At Calais the army considered shooting the mutineers with heavy artillery. There was also one in Wales which was suppressed by shooting in which five men were killed. The West Indian mutiny was simply one of many. He also points out that she couldn’t pronounce the words ‘machine gun corps’ and so sounds like a small child. She claims a Black trooper was shot, which is untrue. A young Black girl says it’s a horrible way to treat people who put their leaves on the line. Webb gives the girl the benefit of the doubt, as she may not know much about history. She claims that Black soldiers were treated worse than Whites, but there were plenty of Whites who were also treated badly. She also claims that they were written out of history, but that’s only the case if you don’t read books about the War. But the West Indian Regiment were comparatively small, only consisting of 15 thousand men, compared to the million Indian troops and the millions of other colonial troopers. He concludes by saying that it’s an example of a modern Black academic trying to remodel history for political purposes, and says it’s no wonder it was backed by the Beeb.

There are several things to be said about this. Otele is highly qualified – she has a doctorate from the Sorbonne and was recently appointed the professor of slavery at Bristol university. This looks like a political appointment. The University has been under fire because it was partly founded through donations from the Colston charities, set up in commemoration of the slavery Edward Colston. The same Colston whose statue was toppled last year by Black Lives Matter protestors. I understand that there’s also a lot of Black anger in Bristol directed at the university because of its low number of Black students. This is probably because, as a member of the Russell Group of universities, it’s entry standards are very high, and Black educational levels throughout Britain are disproportionately poor. Also, when I was at school, you were discouraged from applying to your local university. Thus although Bristol has a large Black population, few Bristol Blacks would end up in the uni.

Then there’s the question of what she says about the treatment of the West Indian regiment. I’ve also heard that there was a reluctance to use Black troops against Europeans, and they were sent out to fight the Turks as an inferior civilisation. It’s also true that the Black and Asian soldiers who fell in the War weren’t commemorated like the White. A few years ago a monument was finally set up to them in Belgium. But a few years ago, at the beginning of this century, the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol held an exhibition on the contribution of Black and Asian soldiers to the War. This included diaries and other artefacts. It also included a statement from a Black soldier that serving with Whites and seeing them suffer in hospital like everyone else broke down racial barriers and showed that they were not gods to be feared. The Empire and Commonwealth Museum closed sometime ago, long before Otele was appointed. It’s a pity it is no longer there, but it’s holding are currently held in the archives at Bristol’s M Shed. It’s a pity Otele didn’t contact them.

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