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SUNDAY STABROEK, June 29, 2014 Page 1C

A war painting of the Western front by Paul Nash, the official artist on the British side in the First World War, who was retained by the War Office.
xactly one hundred years ago yesterday,
on the 28
June, 1914, a match was struck
that ignited a conflagration all across
Europe and the Middle East. World War I,
as it later became known, still hovered on
the periphery of living memory until as late as the begin-
ning of this century, but with the passing of all those who
fought in it, it has graduated to become just another chap-
ter in a history book except that there are still millions
of people alive who once knew some of those who either
fought in it or lived through it. As such, there remains an
indirect albeit tenuous human thread linking the pre-
sent to what happened one hundred years ago.
In addition to that, of course, it was the first industrial
war, so to speak, which saw the first tanks, the first air-
craft, the first aircraft carrier and some massive artillery
being deployed, not forgetting that this was also the first
time chemical warfare and aerial bombing were
employed in war. While weaponry has evolved dramati-
cally from that period, nevertheless, First World War mil-
itary hardware is still eminently recognizable to us today,
and the nature of the war itself, therefore, appears some-
how very modern.
This notwithstanding, the front in France and Belgium
in particular produced a lengthy stalemate. The soldiers
were trapped in trenches and had to go over barbed wire
across a no-mans land to try and capture territory held by
the other side, whose soldiers faced them in their own
trenches. (See box for estimates of total casualties in
every theatre.)
The use of industrial era weaponry in these circum-
stances took an extremely heavy toll on the men ordered
over the wire, while the amount of land which changed
hands for much of the period of four years on this front
was very small. As the war progressed the military com-
manders and the government in Britain in particular came
under increasing criticism, (See G K Chestertons poem in
box), although in more recent times historians have been
kinder to the senior military echelons who directed the
At the end of the war, the map of Europe and the
Middle East came to look very different, with two
empires the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman
(Turkish) having been dismembered, thereby creating a
number of new territories, and Germany losing her few
imperial possessions in Africa and Asia. In addition, it
could no longer be denied (it had been apparent but not
acknowledged before), that the worlds greatest industri-
al power was the United States, whose entry into the war
had played a major role in bringing about the collapse of
Germany. The four years between 1914 and 1918 too had
profound consequences in the colonial territories, most of
which had sent some of their young men to fight for the
metropolis in the case of India, in huge numbers. Those
who returned had an entirely different perspective on the
colonial situation from what had obtained pre-war, and in
that period lay the roots of some of the later independence
Many countries were involved at one period or anoth-
er in the First World War, although the majority of these
sent no troops and saw no fighting on their soil. Robert
Wilde says that most of the Central American countries,
for example, formally entered the war in 1917 after the
United States did, although this had no practical
The First World War 1914-18
This year marks the centenary of the First World War, which officially started on July 28, 1914.
Sunday Stabroek recalls it very briefly, and looks at the role of some of those from the then
colonies and elsewhere, whose contribution is frequently overlooked.
Turn to page 4C
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The American Expeditionary Force lined up on the dock in front of their troop ship after
landing in St Nazaire, France, 1917
The Australian Imperial Camel Corps which fought against the Turks, 1918
The Turks muster in preparation for an attack on the Suez Canal, 1914 (Library of Congress)
The most famous man on the Allied side came to be
T E Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia, as he is bet-
ter known. An author, poet, politician, secret service
agent and soldier, he fought with Arab insurgents
against the Turks, and kept them onside by making
promises that he knew did not represent the official
British position. His resolute attempts after the war
to strike compromises with the British that would
have gone some way to fulfilling Arab expectations,
failed. Along with the Balfour Declaration of 1917,
the British legacy in the Middle East from this peri-
od was the cause of many of its current problems.
Individual Blacks had enlisted independently in var-
ious British regiments at the beginning of the war,
such as the unknown soldier seen here on the left. A
local example is that of Lionel Fitzherbert Turpin of
then British Guiana. After the war he settled in
Leamington in England; his son was Randolph
Turpin, who became the World Middleweight
Boxing Champion. Norman Manley, later to be
Premier of Jamaica, also volunteered, and served in
the Royal Field Artillery. His senior officers,
impressed by his education and sophistication and
embarrassed about him being restricted to the ranks,
offered him a commission, but he refused it.
SUNDAY STABROEK, June 29, 2014 Page 11C
Indian wounded were treated in the grandiose sur-
roundings of the Brighton Pavilion on Englands
south coast. At first they were tended to by white
nurses, but this did not sit well with the War Office,
and eventually male orderlies took over hands-on
care, while the nurses functioned in supervisory roles.
An unidentified corporal from the British West India
Regiment receiving a medal for gallantry under
arms from Commander of Chaytor Force, New
Zealander Major General Sir EWC Chaytor, 1918
British West Indies Regiment stacking shells at Ypres, 1917
Indian Military Engineers (Imperial War Museum)
The first British tank model in France, 1916. It was not very suited to the task, but was soon
succeeded by more effective models.
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Diagram of a trench
Remembrance Day 1927, Georgetown
Members of the West Indies Regiment in France
An improvised march by young men in Georgetown in support of the
local recruits for the British West India Regiment
An Allied trench on the Western front
Turkish prisoners in India, 1916
Zeppelins were used in bombing raids by the Germans early in the war,
but were eventually abandoned because they were too easily shot down.
Here Dead We Lie
Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.
Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
And we were young.
AE Housman
SUNDAY STABROEK, June 29, 2014 Page 9C
A Cemetery wherein are buried 300 West Indians,
where not a tree, shrub or flower has been planted, bears
eloquent testimony to theattitude adopted to [the men
of the British West Indies Regiment] whether dead or
alive. Lt.Col Wood-Hill, Commander of the 1
West Indies Regiment, 1920.
For generations now, Guyanese and other West Indians
have paid their annual silent tribute to Remembrance Day
to those who served, were wounded and who died in the
First and Second World Wars. Above all, in the case of the
1941-18 war they remember the sacrifice of the men of
the British West Indies (BWI) Regiment, some of whom
were recruited from this country.
The assumption has always been that the burden of suf-
fering inflicted by the rites of war was distributed more-
or-less evenly across the regiments. Not so. In addition to
the enemy in the First World War, the men of the BWI
battalions also had to fight racial prejudice, humiliation,
neglect and disease the last caused by hostile climatic
conditions for which they were initially not properly
The statistics tell their own story. According to Lt-Col
Wood-Hill, a white Jamaican officer who campaigned on
behalf of his men against the bureaucrats in the War
Office, and who in 1920 wrote a memoir entitled A few
Notes on the History of the British West Indies Regiment,
135 West Indian soldiers were killed or died from wounds
received in action, while 1,000 died from sickness
mostly pneumonia and chest and lung trouble.
Perhaps what has attracted attention most about the
Regiment, however, is the mutiny of some of the battal-
ions at Taranto, Italy, at the end of the war on account of
discrimination and humiliation. Wood-Hills comment on
the mutiny was When all the facts are considered, it is a
marvel that the men behaved with so much restraint.
In Egypt and on the front line in Palestine, he said,
where they fought alongside both the 52
Scottish as
well as Australian and New Zealand forces among others,
there was good fellowship. Even in France, a much more
problematic theatre from the point of view of Caribbean
contingent, barring a few isolated incidents there were not
too many problems in the first two years. All of the front-
line camaraderie evaporated however, when following
the Armistice most of the West Indies battalions were bil-
leted at Taranto, where, wrote the Lt-Colonel, The
Colour Question was never so much in evidence and
never were West Indians so humiliated and badly treat-
The Taranto mutiny is only now coming to public
attention, largely as a consequence of a documentary
made by British TV station, Channel Four, and rebroad-
cast on the local Channel 9 station. The pioneer research
on the subject, however, was undertaken by Guyanese
historian, Cedric Joseph some thirty years ago.
The only surviving World War One veteran in Guyana
is Gershom Browne, who has written a small memoir of
his experiences in and out of war, as yet unpublished, and
who agreed to be interviewed by this newspaper.
Although he fought against the Turks in Palestine, he was
never at Taranto. In addition, he was fortunate to have
escaped the harsh climatic condition which caused so
many of his comrades such suffering.
While Brownes battalion endured fewer hardships
comparatively speaking, some of the others had a very
much more difficult time. The first Jamaican contingent,
which went to form the Second Battalion, for exam-
ple, was sent to England and was quartered in such poor
housing during the winter months, that a large number of
soldiers fell ill.
The second contingent of Jamaicans faced similar con-
ditions, but on this occasion Wood-Hill himself begged to
have them removed from England and into training.
Within three weeks, they had been sent to Egypt,
although according to the Lieutenant Colonel, their prob-
lems were not over, as they subsequently succumbed to
measles, mumps and cerebro-meningitis.
The most unfortunate contingent, again comprising
mostly Jamaicans, was the Fourth Battalion. According
to Wood-Hill, they were inadequately clothed and their
boat was caught in a blizzard. The vessel had not been
provided with steam heating, and when it was forced to
put into the port of Halifax, hundreds of men had to be
admitted to the hospital suffering from frostbite.
Many West Indians, wrote Wood-Hill, lost their lives
from pneumonia on board ship and this was entirely
due to the fact that they were unsuitably clothed, with no
warm underclothing, no overcoats and sick accommoda-
tion totally unsuitable.
Egypt was a more congenial climate for men who
came from the tropics, but it was not long before the
luminaries at the War Office decided that the Third and
Fourth Battalions of the BWI Regiment should be
removed from there to serve as ammunition carriers in
France. The Bermudans, said the bureaucrats, had per-
formed very well in that role, and had also withstood the
winter in France successfully. It was in vain, wrote Wood-
Hill, that it was explained to the military powers-that-be
that Bermuda was not, technically speaking, a tropical
island, and that climatic conditions were rather different
from those in the Caribbean. Inevitably, the winter in
France took its toll.
In the Autumn of 1916, a military conference in Egypt
recommended that all West Indians should be concentrat-
ed there on account of the climate. However, this propos-
al was not, according to the Lieutenant-Colonel, well
received by the commanders of the BWI battalions in
France. They said their men were perfectly happy carry-
ing shells, and did not want to return to Egypt.
This lack of unanimity, said Wood-Hill, practically
killed the British West Indies Regiment. Furthermore,
when the War Office had sufficient shell carriers in
France, the remaining West Indians were simply utilized
as labour battalions, which inevitably demoralized them.
Lobbying on the part of Wood-Hill and others did
eventually succeed in putting two battalions of the
Regiment into the field against the Turks in Palestine,
among whom were quite a few Guyanese. They acquitted
themselves well, proving to the world at large, wrote the
Jamaican officer, that the West Indians possess soldier -
like qualities, and... that the opinion of the War Office -
based goodness knows on what!- that West Indians have
doubtful fighting qualities, was absolutely and entirely
At the end of his memoir, Wood-Hill analysed the
problems of the BWI Regiment during the First World
War. Aside from the colour prejudice of the War Office,
he lamented the fact that after they had raised the men the
home colonies thought that their responsibilities had
ended. The contingents, he wrote, were sent to England
and simply dumped there.
The home colonial governments brought no pressure to
bear on the War Office, and the latter was never called
upon to explain on what grounds they considered that
West Indians would not make good soldiers.
Furthermore, he wrote, had the West Indies been fed-
erated under one administration, instead of being individ-
ual territories all dealing directly with the Colonial
Office, the whole history, life and being of the regiment
would have been altered.
The Dominion Governments, in contrast to the dis-
parate and insular West Indian colonies, were also able to
give full publicity to the exploits of their regiments in the
field, and as a consequence were in a position to give
them support, and lobby the War Office on their behalf.
To give but one example, Indian troops were withdrawn
from France early in the war because they too were
unable to withstand the rigours of the winter there.
Finally, Wood-Hill said that normally when a battalion
did well in the field, the commander was often rewarded,
and this is looked upon by all ranks as a Reward to the
Regiment. However, up to the signing of the Armistice
no single reward had been given to any commanding offi-
cer of a British West Indies battalion in France or Italy.
Eighty-odd years after men across the Caribbean
responded to the call from Britain to fight in the First
World War, the true record of not just their service, but
also of their ordeal is now coming to light.
West Indians and
the regiments
After war was declared many West Indians left
the colonies of their own accord to enlist in the
army in Britain, and were recruited into British reg-
iments. According to Chris Baker, the War Office
was less than happy with this development, and
made attempts to prevent the West Indians from
enlisting, threatening to repatriate any who came
with this in mind.
It was eventually decided that the number of
aliens (ie non-whites) who could enlist in British
regiments should be limited to one to every 50
white British soldiers. In addition, they were not
allowed to be promoted beyond NCO level,
although according to Walter Tull, there were odd
instances of this happening, such as in the case of
the son of a Barbadian carpenter who was a pro-
fessional footballer playing for Tottenham Hotspur
and who was given a commission as a 2
Lieutenant in the Middlesex Regiment.
Eventually, after lengthy discussions involving
the War Office and the Colonial Office, and fol-
lowing the intervention of King George V, it was
decided to raise a West India Regiment (a new one,
since one had existed for a long time before this),
which was done in 1915.
Fighting discrimination and cold: The British
West Indies Regiment in the First World War
The article below was first published in
the Sunday Stabroek on April 16, 2000
BWIR badge this is the insigma of the GWIR
as worm by BWIR troops
Page 8C SUNDAY STABROEK, June 29, 2014
The Harlem Hellfighters Regimental Band, which is credited with help-
ing to introduce jazz to Europe.
Crowds at the stelling waiting for the Guyanese recruits to arrive to
board the boat
Members of the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the Harlem
Hellfighters, who individually received the Croix de Guerre from
France. The Hellfighters were originally a New York National Guard
regiment taken into federal service and sent to France. They were given
labour duties first, since the American military command was not pre-
pared to countenance them actively fighting alongside US white units;
however, they were subsequently assigned to the French, and served
alongside Frances 16th Division in the trenches. They acquitted them-
selves with valour, and the entire regiment was awarded a unit Croix de
Guerre by France at the end of the war for taking Schault. 171 mem-
bers of the regiment also received either the individual Croix de Guerre
or the Lgion dHonneur from France at the end of the war for bravery
in action.
British troops going over the wire into No Mans Land
French troops at the Battle of the Marne, 1914
The crowd at the stelling waiting for the arrival of the first Guyanese
contingent recruited into the British West Indies Regiment, 1915.
The contingent first marched through Georgetown before boarding the
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Europe at the outbreak of war in 1914 The map of Europe looked very different at the end of the war.
Belgium and
Costa Rica
France and Empire
Great Britain and
Germany and
Italy and colonies
Portugal and
San Marino
Unites States of
Indian soldiers (Imperial War Museum). After declaring war, Britain could only muster an expe-
ditionary force of 120,000 men when France, Germany and Austria had mobilized millions. While
there were plenty of volunteers, it was recognized that these would take time to train, and so
recourse was had to India to make up the first numbers, because it had a very large, well-trained
force already at its disposal. These troops were brought into service in Europe initially, the first
batch of 28,500 Indian troops arriving in France on September 28, 1914. In all, 1.3 million men
from the sub-continent served in the First World War, while through taxation India raised two
war loans for Britain which were never repaid.
Two soldiers of the Tirailleur Senegalais Regiment (from the French
colony, Senegal) in 1915. Frances colonial African regiments fought
alongside the French in several theatres, and not just in Africa.
British and German African troops fought in Africa, sustaining par-
ticularly heavy losses in the east of the continent.
Canadian soldiers in the trenches at Vimy Ridge, 1917 (The Canadian Press)
(Compiled by Robert Wilde)
SUNDAY STABROEK, June 29, 2014 Page 5C
Elegy in a Country Churchyard
The men that worked for England
They have their graves at home:
And birds and bees of England
About the cross can roam.
But they that fought for England,
Following a falling star,
Alas, alas for England
They have their graves afar.
And they that rule in England,
In stately conclave met,
Alas, alas for England
They have no graves as yet.
G K Chesterton
Members of the British West Indies Regiment cleaning their rifles in France,
Germans in the trenches before the Battle of the Marne, 1914
Gavrilo Princip, the Serbian assassin of Archduke
Franz Ferdinand, and member of a nationalist group
Page 4C SUNDAY STABROEK, June 29, 2014
The First World War 1914-18
implications. Brazil was the only South American coun-
try to declare war on Germany, again in 1917.
The leading protagonists were Germany, Austria-
Hungary, the Ottoman Empire (Turkey), Britain (plus
dominions and colonies), France (and colonies), Russia,
Italy, Romania and from 1917, the United States. They
fell into two groups: the Central powers (Germany,
Austro-Hungary, Turkey, Bulgaria and others), which
were ranged against the Allied powers (Britain, France,
Russia, Italy and others. The United States was technical-
ly not an Allied power, but was in association with the
After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Lenin
and his associates pursued peace independently with
Germany. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk which was signed
early in 1918, and which on the Russian side had been
negotiated by a team led by Leon Trotsky, was punitive to
Russia in the extreme, and is regarded by some historians
as the template for the Peace of Versailles. The latter was
signed in 1919 between the major parties, and has long
been seen by many as unduly harsh on Germany.
Outbreak of war
The causes of the war are complex, and have been
argued over by historians of varying ideological persua-
sions for many decades. The trigger which set in train a
sequence of disastrous events is, however, very well
known. On June 28, 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand
of Austria, heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne, was
assassinated along with his wife Sophie in Sarajevo,
Serbia, by the Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip. In
brief, following this incident Austria-Hungary with the
help of the Germans, then presented Serbia with an ulti-
matum of ten demands, which Austria did not expect
would be fulfilled.
Nevertheless, on July 23, Serbia agreed to comply with
all of the demands, save one that Austria should be part
of an internal Serbian inquiry into the killing and fol-
lowing that, three days later on July 28, 1914, Austria-
Hungary declared war on Serbia. This date marks the
official start of the First World War.
Owing to a system of alliances which had been formed
prior to the war, a number of powers were then drawn into
it. Russia declared her support for Serbia, while Germany,
of course, was in alliance with Austria-Hungary. It was
Germany which declared war on France, which had
struck a pre-war entente with Russia, and the Germans
moved quickly to try and push through to Paris by
marching first through Luxemburg and Belgium.
Belgiums neutrality, however, had decades earlier
been guaranteed by the European powers, and it was
this breach of it which caused Britain to declare war
against Germany. It was said at the time that the
British had gone to war over a piece of paper.
In November 1914, the Ottoman Empire declared
war on the side of the Central powers, and this brought
large swathes of the Middle East, much of which was
under Turkish control directly into the conflict. It was
in this theatre that Guyanese members of the West
India Regiment mostly fought. Turkey was seen as
the sick man of Europe, and for many decades vari-
ous nations had been coveting one or another portion
of its imperial holdings.
As said above, the war was fought on many fronts,
but as said earlier large numbers of troops were pinned
down in Belgium and France, on what was called the
Western front. In the initial stages of the conflict, New
Zealanders and Australians attacked islands in the
Pacific that were part of the German empire, while the
British, French and South Africans, fought also in
Africa, where the Germans held a colony and protec-
Austro-Hungarian forces fought in the Balkans,
Italy and Russia, and Serbia especially took very
heavy losses at their hands. While the Russians scored
successes against the Austrians early on, they encoun-
tered difficulties when confronting the Germans first
in East Prussia, and also when fighting in central
Europe. From 1916 onwards, it was the disorganiza-
tion and poor leadership on the Russian front, coupled
with the incompetence of the government at home
and the consequent hardship for civilians that provid-
ed the context for first the February Revolution of
1917, and then the Bolshevik one of October the same
The war against Turkey did not start well for the
Allies and in 1915 there were huge British, French
and Anzac (Australian and New Zealand) casualties at
Gallipoli a campaign whose architect was a young
Winston Churchill in his capacity as First Lord of the
Admiralty. Following that disaster he had to leave the
government. Fighting extended as far as Saudi Arabia and
the Levant, as well as into Iran, where the Russians sent
troops and where they won a series of victories until their
forces were withdrawn in 1917.
On the high seas, following the Battle of Jutland in
1916, the powerful German navy was left bottled up in
port by British ships, which also executed a blockade, and
the Germans resorted to submarine attacks on trans-
Atlantic merchant shipping. The Americans had warned
Germany about unrestricted submarine warfare in viola-
tion of international law, and while it stopped for a while,
it resumed in January 1917. This together with the publi-
cation of a telegram sent by the Germans to Mexico
encouraging the latter to declare war on the United States,
brought the US into the war. This saw the drafting of
2.8M fresh troops for the Western front.
After a temporary breakthrough on this front, the
Germans were soon driven back, and with anti-war
demonstrations in the German cities where there were
major shortages, and the army on the verge of mutiny
the navy in the port of Kiel did mutiny the German high
command recognized by September 1918 that the war
had been lost. The Allies first signed an armistice with
Turkey at the end of October, and then one with Austria
on November 3, 1918. After the abdication of the Kaiser,
who fled to the Netherlands, Germany declared a repub-
lic on November 9. Two days later, the armistice with
Germany was signed at 5am in a railway carriage at
Compigne, in a French forest. The truce came into effect
the same day at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month.
From page 1C
Manfred von Richthofen, known as the Red Baron,
was a German flying ace who became famous on
both sides of the lines for the number of planes he
shot down. After shooting down his 80th Sopwith
Camel, he himself was fatally shot at age 25.
The Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary and his wife Sophie
prior to their assassination on June 28, 1914
Dulce et Decorum est, 1917
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And floundring like a man in fire or lime ...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
Wilfred Owen
SUNDAY STABROEK, June 29, 2014 Page 3C
As a soldier in the British West Indies
Regiment, he fought on the front line
against the Turks and experienced being in
no mans land- in the line of fire. Now
101 years o1d, he does not regret any
moment of it and considers its Gods will
that he is still alive to tell the story.
Gershom Barnabas Onesimus Browne
is one of the very few surviving World
War One veterans anywhere. Enjoying the
early morning sun at his daughters
Lamaha Gardens home, the centenarian
recalled his life over the past century.
Gershom Browne was born to
Alexander Browne and Johannah Browne
ne Rodney, at La Retraite village, West
Bank Demerara. His father died when he
was about ten-years-old.
Following his education at the St Marks
Scots, the St Pauls Scots and the Rattary
Congregational Schools, Browne worked
in the capital for about eight months as an
office boy. When he lost his job, he took
employment as a call boy and later
worked as an apprentice blacksmith. My
young hands helped to beat into shape
several gates and fences of iron. I still see
some on properties in Georgetown, he
recalls in a personal memoir which is yet
to be published.
Browne was about seventeen years old
when the First World War broke out in
August, 1914. In his memoir he describes
how he would be at the Cable Board every
afternoon following events until the last
bulletin had been put up, and how he
would listen to and absorb the talk of the
older men there who sometimes discussed
past wars.
When the British West Indies (BWI)
Regiment was formed, campaigns were
held all over the country to recruit men
between the ages of 18 to 35 years.
Browne, in his unpublished work tells
how he was recruited in November of
1915 when he went to a campaign in the
Parade Ground (now Independence
Square) after work. There, he says, a large
crowd had gathered and was listening to
speeches and patriotic war songs, and he
gave his name to a lady who approached
him. He was 17 plus, and his mother was
not happy about the new direction his life
had taken.
After passing a medical examination,
Browne was drafted as a soldier- No.
3076 - in No. 2 platoon on February l,
He was given a pair of boots and a
slouch felt hat and underwent daily train-
ing. He was later promoted to Lance
In early November 1916, the soldiers
boarded a Sprostons boat, the SS
Mazaruni, for Trinidad. Here they were
deposited until March 1917 when finally
they went aboard the troopship
Magdalene in company with recruits from
Trinidad, picking up soldiers from
Barbados, Grenada and St Lucia along the
way. Her destination was Malta.
According to Browne, measles broke
out on the Magdalene, and some soldiers
had to be taken off.
From Malta the boat sailed for
Alexandria in Egypt, where they were
taken straight to an isolation camp, not far
from the BWI Regiments camp at Mex.
The soldiers were informed that they
were the fifth reserve battalion of the
British West Indies Regiment; the
Guyanese recruit was posted to F compa-
ny and his number was 1931.
Browne says that in June of 1917, he
was given a new kit which included,
among several other things, 2 bandoliers
which had 60 rounds of ammunition in
each, a rifle with a bayonet and an SBR
gas mask.
It was a prelude to his being drafted for
the front, which happened, he says, on one
Sunday morning in June. Their destination
was Deriel Beelah station, where the 1st
battalion was to be found in dugouts on
the shore of the Mediterranean Sea.
The front
It was not, continues Browne in his
memoir, a hot sector; the only engage-
ments were with fighting patrols.
However, in September, his situation
changed. His battalion was sent to the
front line again, but this time in a sector of
their own. They were part, he says, of the
Composite Force, comprising two BWI
battalions, two Jewish battalions, two
Indian regiments, a French detachment
and an Italian detachment.
It was at this time, Browne writes, I
was selected for specialised training as a
scout and sniper... No mans land here was
very deep, over 1000 yards, and speaking
militarily we had to have control of no
mans land; so I had knowledge of every
inch... in our sector. Browne led patrols
reconnoitering or fighting. They would
look for enemy patrols, and if they saw
any they would retreat and fire. I was not
frightened, says Browne.
He describes how the armies facing
each other were in fortified redoubts; his
platoon occupied Dumbell Hill Redoubt,
and he relates how one Sunday morning,
the Turks started an artillery barrage on
allied lines. What saved them was the fact
that most of the Turkish shells were duds.
However, during this barrage his compan-
ion, Harry Branch, was killed. Later, on
the Jordan Valley front, he remembered a
Guyanese, Sergeant Chan, being killed.
Brownes company was one night
ordered on a forced march of 59 kilome-
tres to make contact with the enemy. At
about 2 in the morning, they realized it
would be a bayonet charge. Only a sol-
dier who has seen active service knows
what this means, he writes, it is a terror-
izing and terrifying action.
The charge was successful, however,
and he records that in the aftermath more
than 130 prisoners were taken, including a
German sapper, whose orders were, no
doubt, to blow up the Damesh Bridge
across the Jordan River.
Unfortunately for Browne, during this
march the Company had been ordered to
lighten up to bare fighting order, which
meant that everything had to be jettisoned
except the absolute essentials, viz a blan-
ket and waterproof sheet, haversack with
emergency rations, a pair of socks, water
bottle and steel helmet. It was in this shed-
ding process that the veterans diary was
left behind and never seen again.
The Turks retreat
General Allenbys offensive in
Palestine, of which two BWI battalions
were a part, moved forward against the
Turks on a 40 kilometre front. The enemy
was dislodged, Browne writes, and all
towns west of the Jordan River were cap-
tured, including Jerusalem.
After a bout of sickness, when he was
sent down the line, Browne rejoined his
comrades at Ramallah, and it was here, on
November 8, 1918, they saw flashing sig-
nals from the sea. These were the signals,
he says, indicating that the Armistice had
been signed, and that fighting should
Although he was shot at during his
time on the front, Browne told this
newspaper, I was never hit, but I did
shoot at the enemy.
I witnessed many dead bodies on the
front line, but you cant... [focus] on them.
You just have to keep moving.
In October 1919, 20 men from the
British Guiana contingent, including
Browne, were returned home.
He embarked on civilian life with a gra-
tuity of 15 pounds, some agricultural tools
and the offer of land in the Demerara
River. He purchased a piece of land at La
Grange, West Bank Demerara and went
into coffee cultivation. Subsequently he
turned to diamond prospecting in the inte-
rior, where, he writes, his scouting experi-
ence stood him in good stead.
He later met and married Daisly
Johnson who bore him eight children,
seven of whom are alive. After being
together for fifty years, Daisly passed
away in June of 1975.
After a spell on the Bartica-Issano
Road, the veteran was appointed the
Village Overseer of Bagotville District, in
which post he gave long service.
Today the centenarian lives with his
second child, Claudia Browne in Lamaha
Gardens. He has a very vivid memory and
moves about independently. At the end of
the interview he proceeded to read the
Stabroek News without his glasses.
Gershom Browne:
In the line of fire in World War One
The following interview with the late Gershom Browne who served in the West India Regiment in Palestine in World
War I was first published in Sunday Stabroek on April 16, 2000. Mr Browne died a few years ago.
Gershom Browne in his army uniform; he had just joined the British
West Indies Regiment.
Page 12C SUNDAY STABROEK, June 29, 2014
The Peace
The Peace of Versailles was signed five years to
the day after Archduke Franz Ferdinands assassi-
nation on June 28, 1919. While it was preceded
by a conference which discussed the terms, the
losers were not present; the treaty was imposed on
them and they were simply called in to sign it after
the victors had decided on its provisions. Initially
these were discussed by a Council of Ten, but sub-
sequently this was reduced to a Council of Four
or the Big Four, as its negotiators came to be
known. These were Prime Minister Georges
Clemenceau of France, Prime Minister Lloyd
George of Britain, Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando
of Italy and President Woodrow Wilson of the
United States.
Prior to arriving in Europe, Wilson had drawn up
what were known as the Fourteen Points as a basis
for the peace, to which Germany had acceded.
Wilsons document, however, was long on idealism
and short on detail, and he soon found himself out-
manoeuvred by the vengeful Clemenceau and the
far more politically astute Lloyd George. Wilson
wanted such things as open agreements between
states, self-determination, disarmament consistent
with domestic safety, and a League of Nations, for
which Clemenceau in particular, had no time. In the
end, it was only this last which survived intact.
According to John Maynard Keynes, who was
present at the talks as an advisor to Lloyd George,
Clemenceau held a stereotypical view of the
Germans, namely, that they could not be negotiated
with but only dictated to. He regarded European
wars as recurrent, and that there would be others;
therefore, he had no patience with Wilsons gener-
ous view which would shorten Germanys recovery
period and bring closer the day when that country
once more would launch itself against France.
Germany had long since overtaken France, more
particularly in economic terms, since their last mil-
itary encounter in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870,
and Clemenceau, according to Keynes, sought to
stymie Germanys economic engine, so France
could seize perhaps a part of it. This is the policy
of an old man, wrote Keynes, whose most vivid
impressions and most lively imagination are of the
past and not of the future.
Lloyd George for his part was concerned about
too great an imposition on the German economic
machine; after all, Britain for her own economic
reasons would need a Germany which was healthy
enough to trade with. However, he had just
emerged from an election in 1918 where the cam-
paign centred on not letting Germany get away with
anything a position it was difficult to retreat fully
And then there was the President of the United
States, who was in the end to find his Fourteen
Points overridden by what Keynes calls
Clemenceaus Carthaginian Peace (ie a brutal
peace). How did the President come to accept
this? asked Keynes. In a lengthy response to this
question, he wrote among other things: Thus day
after day and week after week, he [President
Wilson] allowed himself to be closeted, unsupport-
ed, unadvised, and alone, with men much sharper
than himself, in situations of supreme difficulty,
where he needed for success every description of
resource, fertility, and knowledge. He allowed him-
self to be drugged by their atmosphere, to discuss
on the basis of their plans and of their data, and to
be led along their paths.
The most controversial of the terms of the peace
was what became known in popular parlance as the
war guilt clause, whereby Germany had to accept
responsibility for the war and pay enormous repa-
rations. In the event, much of this was never in fact
paid, but the humiliation it represented fed into
German discontent and provided fuel for dangerous
nationalists like Adolf Hitler.
The Big Four in 1919. From left: British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Italian Prime
Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau and President
Woodrow Wilson of the United States
One of the great hazards of trench warfare was poison gas; many thousands of soldiers on both
sides were blinded by it, and sometimes killed. Here members of the British Machine Gun Corps
are seen in their gas masks, 1916.
The Allies most successful aircraft, the Sopwith Camel, 1917