Second World War




Out of a population of 14 million in the Caribbean colonies of the British Commonwealth, about 16,000 West Indians volunteered for service alongside the British during the Second World War. Of these, well over a 100 were women who were posted overseas – 80 chose the WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) for their contribution, while around 30 joined the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service).

Around 6,000 West Indians served with the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force, in roles from fighter pilots to bomb aimers, air gunners to ground staff and administration.

Thousands of West Indian seamen made their contributions in one of the Second World War's most dangerous services, the Merchant Navy – one-third of all merchant seamen were to die during the war.

One thousand volunteers for army service were formed into the Caribbean Regiment, which went overseas in 1944 and saw service in the Middle East and Italy. In addition, West Indians served in the Royal Engineers as highly skilled technicians.

Upwards of 40,000 West Indians opted to join the various branches of the civilian war effort in the United States.

236 Caribbean volunteers were killed or reported missing during the Second World War; 265 were wounded.

Caribbean air force personnel received 103 decorations. Their Own Stories

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© Imperial War Museum

© Imperial War Museum

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