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Tracing Caribbean Roots
Land and Property
Most employment records for people working in the Caribbean may be found locally with the company papers or pension agencies. However, if someone worked for central (British) or local (Caribbean) governments there is a possibility that information relating to their career may be found in the United Kingdom.
For more recent immigrants, Ministry of Labour files relating to the employment, welfare and training of colonial migrants can be found in the National Archives record series (PRO) LAB 8/1499, (PRO)LAB 13 and (PRO)LAB 26. These include many papers on Commonwealth migration and labour, such as reports and papers on the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962.
To protect her colonies from external attack and internal unrest, including slave rebellions, Britain had a permanent military presence. Every colony raised a local militia of able-bodied men, and troops of the regular British army were based on the larger islands. The Royal Navy, and the Royal Marines, patrolled the seas, transported troops, and protected merchant vessels against privateers, pirates and enemy ships. Many soldiers and sailors who served in the West Indies did not return to Britain: thousands died on the islands from diseases and warfare, many deserted, and many were discharged and settled in the colonies.
West Indians also served in all of the military services. However, with the exception of periods of war, black West Indians, as well as other non-Europeans, were discouraged from joining the armed services and only 'British born men, of British born parents, of pure European descent' could be commissioned officers. During the First and Second World Wars the armed services reluctantly recruited black West Indians and a few received temporary commissions, mainly in the Royal Air Force. The colour bar was officially lifted in 1948.
The four main services of the British armed forces are:
These services were administered by central government. However, each country raised local militia, which was administered by the local government, and any surviving service records may be found in the local archives or with the local defence forces.
Many West Indians served in the merchant navy . Seamen were among the largest number of early West Indian immigrants to the UK settling in the ports of Cardiff, London, Hull, Glasgow and Liverpool. This caused racial tension and led to the 1919 race riots in most of the major ports.
As a result of these riots many black seamen were repatriated to West Africa and the West Indies and later the government tried to restrict black seamen from settling in the UK. Under the Special Restriction (Coloured Alien Seamen) Order, 1925, black British seamen who discharged in the UK had to prove their nationality or be treated as foreign subjects.
There were three classes of colonial civil servants:
There are no personnel files for any of these posts, although it is possible to find applications and other papers for class 1 and 2 posts in the National Archives. Papers for class 3 posts may survive in the local archives or pensions offices. The following link provides Information on Colonial Civil Servants.
After the Second World War many Caribbean countries suffered high unemployment, while in Britain there was a shortage of labour. People from the British Caribbean countries were British subjects with right of settlement in the UK. Many West Indians made their own way to the UK to find work, but many organisations recruited directly from the West Indies.
For example, in the 1950s and 1960s British Rail, London Transport, the National Health Service and hospital boards and the British Hotels and Restaurants Association set up recruitment schemes in the West Indies, especially in Barbados. Many, such as nurses, also approached prospective employers directly, after seeing advertisements.
Creators: Guy Grannum
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