The amount of detail included varies according to the source of the original information. In general terms, these World War One records should provide at least the following details:
• First name(s)
• Last name
• Army service number (for NCOs and Other Ranks; officers had no numbers)
• Corps • Details of death (where applicable)
The term “rolls of honour” is here used in the broad sense. It includes nominal rolls for all who served, whether they died or survived, as well as rolls of honour which contain only details of those who were killed.
This first release of Caribbean rolls of honour for the Great War includes records for:
• Trinidad & Tobago
For Jamaica, which provided the largest Caribbean contingent to the British and Allied war effort, there are two types of record. Firstly, there are records of army officers from, or connected with, the island. Detail varies from officer to officer but is generally extensive. Secondly, there are records of the non-commissioned officers (NCOs such as corporals and sergeants) and other ranks (privates, gunners etc) who died during the War. In other words, currently there are no records for NCOs and other ranks who served but survived the war.
The Jamaican NCO and other ranks records contain useful information about the background of each soldier. Nearly all of them give the town, parish and county of origin. You can search by town or parish or county using the Optional Keywords field. For example, searching for Mandeville will bring back a list of results for men from that town; searching for St Catherine will return results for men from that parish; and using the search term Cornwall will give you the search results for all soldiers known to be from that Jamaican county.
For Trinidad & Tobago, the record set is more complete and comprehensive. It is believed to contain the great majority of men who served in the First World War, including some who served with the French Army. As with the Jamaican officers’ records, the Trinidad records include all men born or resident in, or in some way associated with, Trinidad & Tobago. For example, some men from the Trinidadian diaspora in Canada who served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force are included.
The records for Trinidad & Tobago in most cases also include details of the contingent, which was a group of men enlisted in the islands who travelled together via Jamaica to England to join the war effort. There were two types of contingent, both numbered – the so-called Public Contingents (largely Black, and forming the rank and file) and the Merchants’ Contingents (largely white, and usually but by no means necessarily destined for the officer class).
In general, there was a distinction between ranks at the time of the First World War. The officer class was overwhelmingly white, although we know that a small number of mixed race men were commissioned or promoted through the ranks. Black men were virtually confined to service as NCOs or other ranks. This distinction held in the British West Indies Regiment, formed in 1915, which was essentially a Black regiment led by white officers.
As well as soldiers of Afro-Caribbean descent, there are men from the Indian Sub-continent, presumably in most cases the descendants of indentured labourers. Some of these men are recorded with just one name; where that is the case, that name is shown in the forename field. Examples include Private Abdula and Private Ramgoo. In other cases, such men have both a personal and a family name, as in for example Privates Nagir Khan and Bagwan Singh.
You will also find men of Latino and Jewish heritage. Many of the Sephardic Jews had Hispanic names such as DeCordova and Henriques. While the combination of names may suggest the likely family background, a surname in isolation is not always reliable. The name Lindo is, for example, a Sephardic Jewish surname in Jamaica and elsewhere in the West Indies, but it is also used in the Latino community and, following the historical pattern of names being taken from merchants and plantation owners and other slavers, among the descendants of Black slaves.
Releases for other islands in the Caribbean are to follow.