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Black poppy: Remembering African, black, and Caribbean communities' contribution

The black poppy has two different meanings attached to it.

It is most associated with the commemoration of black, African, and Caribbean communities' contribution to the war effort - as servicemen and servicewomen, and as civilians.

The black poppy highlights this contribution and the place of black, African, and Caribbean communities in remembrance.

What does the White poppy mean?

White poppy: Remembers people who died in conflict with a focus on an end to the war. Some people feel that the red poppy glorifies war and conflict.

The white poppy is handed out by a charity called Peace Pledge Union, which promotes peace.

Al Jazeera English has found, with black troops receiving a third of the pay of their white contemporaries of the same rank. Some Africans were forcibly and secretly conscripted, while others were beaten by their superiors. Many ended up in poverty.

During World War II, Britain recruited some 600,000 African men to fight. But when the fighting was over, Britain sent these men back home with an end-of-war bonus that was roughly a third of the reward given to their white counterparts, even those from settler communities living in the same African colonies.


“When I got out, they gave me nothing,” said the Burma campaign veteran, Mbiuki, now 100 years old and living in poverty in rural Kenya. “They should have known how much we had helped them. They would have given something. But that was not the case. We were abandoned just like that.”

White soldiers received a gratuity worth triple that offered to black troops.

The Labour party strongly condemned the decision to shelve further inquiries. “It beggars belief that the government simply cannot be bothered to investigate how many black African veterans who faced this appalling discrimination are still alive, and compensate them while there is still time to do so,” said Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary. “We need to hear from Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt as to whether they will reverse this shameful inaction.”

Fabian Hamilton, the shadow minister for defence and foreign and Commonwealth affairs, demanded: “a proper apology without delay”. He said: “This was systematic and deliberate discrimination and an unacceptable way to treat those who were an integral part of the war effort that kept our democracy safe from fascism and Nazism. This government’s treatment of these veterans is a disgrace.”

Conservative backbenchers have also called for action. Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the foreign affairs select committee, said: “The difference in pay between heroes who fought side by side in our common struggle against tyranny is clearly wrong … The government should apologise.”

Andrew Mitchell, a former cabinet minister, said: Elderly Africans who are still alive should be compensated and given an apology.”

Richard Benyon, who sits on the intelligence and security committee of parliament, urged the government to “recognise that discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity when [the wartime] experience was exactly the same was totally wrong”. He added: “Given that it is a very small number of people left alive, some recognition of that wrong – both verbal and financial – should be made.”


During the war, Britain recruited – in some cases forcibly – more than 600,000 African men from across the continent. They fought in some of the war’s bloodiest campaigns, including Burma where they clashed with Japanese imperial forces in dense jungle and torrential rain, sustaining significant casualties.

Ntiba described corporal punishment at the hands of superiors, despite the British army officially having outlawed the practice decades earlier. “We would give them the palms of our hands to be beaten,” he said. “Afterwards, even an attempt to hold something would be hard.”

Ntiba, who still suffers with back pain from a wartime injury, is among the last surviving African veterans of his generation. “We put our lives in danger for them,” he said. “The British government did not listen to our demands. We got out with nothing.”

By the end of the First World War, the British West Indian Regiments (BWIR) had raised twelve Battalions. Over 16,000 BAME volunteers enlisted, the majority from Jamaica and serving on Europe’s Western Front, in East Africa and the Middle East. In December 1918, members of the BWIR’s 6th and 9th Battalions were the main instigators of a mutiny at Taranto, Italy. BWIR recruits were told they’d receive equal treatment as comrades-in-arms.

At their Seaford training camp, however, nineteen of the first arrivals died of pneumonia, facing their first British winter in poorly thrown-together huts. On the next troopship to Britain, 1,115 Black volunteers were left to freeze in a blizzard, wearing only thin tropical uniforms.

The UK Cop Out

The Ministry of Defence said the UK “remains indebted” to African servicemen and women but said that the soldiers involved were employed by their respective governments, not the UK Army, making it difficult to establish the full facts.

Again, black people and their contribution to the ‘Motherland’ has been thrown in their faces. No recognition for nothing. For the lives that were saved because black people chose to ‘belong’ in a society that to this day still does not accept that black lives matter too.

This is a small contribution in remembrance of ‘black people who served in the UK services. The more I delved the more hurtful it became. It was upsetting to read of the treatment of those who served their motherland country. To this day ‘black servicemen and women’ (BAME) have still not received the full recognition of their involvement.



Foreign policy

The Guardian African war veterans paid less than white peers will not get UK pay-out.

BBC Soldiers of the Caribbean: Britain's forgotten war heroes

The veterans' stories feature in the BBC Four documentary, Fighting for King and Empire: Britain's Caribbean Heroes. It is based on the film, Divided by Race, United in War and Peace, by .

The history workshops

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