Plaque honours brave men from far away islands

The unveiling at Seaford Railway Station. Photograph by Joe Grahame
The unveiling at Seaford Railway Station. Photograph by Joe Grahame

A blue plaque honouring the British West Indies Regiment was unveiled at Seaford Railway Station on Monday – Commonwealth Day.

Local dignitaries, war veterans and servicemen and women were among those attending the ceremony, which was organised by the Nubian Jak Community Trust.

It was supported by Seaford Town Council, Lewes District Council and East Sussex County Council.

At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, many West Indian men left the colonies to enlist in the British Army and were recruited into British regiments.

The 1st Battalion of the British West Indies Regiment was formed at Seaford in September 1915.

It consisted of men from British Guiana (A Company), Trinidad (B Company), Trinidad and St Vincent (C Company), and Grenada and Barbados (D Company). The regiment’s battalions saw service in East Africa, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, France and Italy.

A total of 397 officers and 15,204 other ranks served in the British West Indies Regiment. During the Great War it was awarded five DSOs, nine MCs, two MBEs, eight DCMs, 37 MMs and 49 Mentions in Dispatches.

The Mayor of Seaford, Cllr Linda Wallraven, said she was pleased the blue plaque project had come to fruition to recognise the men from distant islands who enlisted to fight for Britain. She said: “The regiment is part of Seaford history. Yearly we have a Service of Remembrance for those who lost their lives, many of whom are buried at Seaford Cemetery.”

Beulah Coombs, lecturer and niece of a private in the regiment, said: “It is a great privilege to be included in the proceedings to commemorate and honour soldiers from the West Indies, who fought for Britain in the First World War.

“Recognition and acknowledgement of their brave contributions to the war effort have been long overdue. My uncle, Private Robert Smith, of the 7th Battalion of the British West Indies Regiment, and whose grave is in Belgium, was one of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. My relatives and I are extremely proud of his and his comrades’ legacies.”

Andy Gardner, Seaford Station Manager, said: “At Southern we are modernising the railway with new trains, improved buildings and working practices to give passengers better journeys. However, it’s very important that we also pay tribute to the heritage and diverse history of our lines. We are delighted to support the community in recognising the service of these inspirational men.”

Jak Beula, CEO of the Nubian Jak Community Trust, said the blue plaque project started two-and-a-half years ago in Seaford and he was grateful to all those who had given it their support.