Monday, August 22, 2016

Visiting St. Kitts, Part One

This August I happen to be spending time in St.Kitts and Nevis, a delightful duality of Caribbean delight, but one should not refrain to engage a bit in the surprisingly rich military history of these islands.

 The war memorial in Basseterre

Like so many parts of the British Empire, St. Kitts and Nevis, or St. Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla as it was known as a colony, contributed men to the monarch throughout most of the Empire’s existence. Kittitians have served the monarch since at least 1790, and Kittitian Private Samuel Hodge became the first black soldier to win the Victoria Cross (VC) in 1866. By the time the First World War broke out, a British West Indies Regiment had been established. A battalion from this regiment was deployed to Africa when war broke out, and it took part in the campaign to take the German colony of Cameroon. A second unit of the British West Indies Regiment made up of volunteers was formed in 1915, and it saw action in present-day Kenya and Tanzania. Following the campaigns in Africa, the volunteer unit fought in Jordan, Palestine, and then on the Western Front and finally in Italy. Many other soldiers from the West Indies fought in other British units. Up to 19,000 men from the West Indies are thought to have served in the British Armed Forces during the First World War. Eighty-one medals were won for bravery of which sixty-one were awarded to officers and men of the British West Indies Regiment.

The war memorial in Basseterre, the capitol of St. Kitts and Nevis, lists the names of 20 individuals who paid the ultimate price during the First World War, and another six who fell during the Second World War. The war memorial was unveiled in 1926 and relocated in 1955 to its current location where a new monument was built.

One of the men who fell, Captain Donald William Edwards, served with the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). He was gazetted Second Lieutenant in the infantry on February 13, 1915. He was awarded the Military Cross (MC) on June 3, 1916, probably while serving with the Army Service Corps. There is unfortunately no citation in the London Gazette.

At some point thereafter, Edwards transferred to the RFC, and he was eventually posted to No. 45 Squadron in late 1916 or 1917. This unit was mainly equipped with Sopwith 1½ Strutters flying in the scout role, although it also had a few Nieuport 20 two-seaters, and both of these types would be facing serious difficulties with the German scouts in the months to come. It should be added that No. 45 squadron included a number of future prominent airmen, including a flight commander by the name of Arthur Harris, who eventually became the commanding officer of No. 45 Squadron, and a quarter of a century later the leader of RAF Bomber Command.

At 09:10AM on April 6, 1917, just three days before the Battle of Arras, three 11/2 Strutters of No. 45 Squadron took off on a reconnaissance mission over enemy territory. They unfortunately ran into Albatros scouts from Jasta 30, including Leutnant Jochim von Bertrab in his characteristic purple Albatros adorned with a comet. Von Betrab had already shot down two Martinsyde G100 “Elephant” bombers from No. 27 Squadron that morning, and he was not done. As von Bertrab attacked the “vic” of 11/2 Strutters at 10:48AM above Becq, two of the aircraft collided, and the crews were killed. Another 11/2 Strutter crashed at 10:50AM, although this Sopwith was not claimed by von Bertrab – perhaps it was shot down by another pilot of Jasta 30. One of the the 11/2 Strutters, A2381, was crewed by Captain Edwards as the observer and Lieutenant Colin St George Campbell as the pilot. Edwards was 26 years old, and he left a wife in London. He was buried at the Tournai Communal Cemetery in Hainaut, Belgium.

Von Bertrab
The effects of the First World War were felt on the island of St. Kitts as well. The Central Sugar Factory had been opened in 1912, and it replaced individual mills and boiling houses throughout the island with a centralized processing plant. The First World War saw sugar prices increase, and the sugar industry went from waning inefficiency to profitable production. 

Joseph Cephas, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. Died 10/03/1919. Buried: Magdelan Hill Cemetery Winchester England. Son of Mrs Rebecca Carey, Mansions Village, St. Kitts.
H. D. (Harrington Douty) Edwards. D.S.O. Royal Navy. Missing presumed dead 11/03/1916. Memorial: Portsmouth Naval Memorial, Hampshire, England. Eldest son of a District Medical Officer in Antigua. He is also recorded as having been awarded a D.S.O. .
James L. E. R. Lake, Border Regiment. Died 24/08/1915. Buried Eas Mudros Military Cemetery, Limnos Island, Greece. Son of James Louis Engelbert Lake and Henrietta Theresa Lake, of Church St., St. John's, Antigua, British West Indies.
Joseph A. McKoy, British West Indies Regiment. Died 16/10/1918. Buried Kantara War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt.
Donald (Joseph) Patrice. British West Indies Regiment. Died 15/03/1919. Buried Alexandria (Hadra) Memorial Cemetery, Egypt. Son of Alexander Patrice and Alice Nicholas, his wife, of Roseau, Dominica, British West Indies.
Edward Hope Ross, Middlesex regiment. Died 01/07/1916. Missing presumed dead. Memorial Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France. Son of Mr. and Mrs. D. Hope Ross, of Port of Spain, Trinidad, British West Indies.
Robert L(awrence) Woolward. British West Indies Regiment. Died 10/09/1918. Buried Alexandria (Hadra) Memorial Cemetery, Egypt. Son of Robert Tapley Woolward and Mary Evangeline Thomas (his wife) of St. Kitts, British West Indies.

Probable identification:

James Daniel, British West Indies Regiment. Died 09/01/1917. Buried: Kantara War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt. The only James or J. Daniel listed with a West Indian connection - his regiment.
Donald Edwards, M.C., 45th Squadron, Royal Flying Corp. Died 06/04/1917. Buried: Tournai Communal Cemetery Allied Extension, Hainaut, Belgium. His wife is noted as living in London, England. He is the only Donald or D. Edwards listed with an M.C. Military Cross.
Richard T(heophilus) White. British West Indies Regiment. Died 30/09/1918. Buried: Ismailia War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt. Son of Charles and Jane Davis White, of Antigua, British West Indies.

Unable To Identify:
Arthur Dickenson: Six A. or Arthur Dickensons, all with no additional information pointing to a connection with St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla.
 John Foreman. Nine J. or John Foremans, all with no additional information pointing to a connection with St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla.
Edmund Gordon Nine E. or Edmund Gordons, all with no additional information pointing to a connection with St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla
Hywel Herbert Jones. The name of Jones produces many results and there was no information pointing to a connection with St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla.#
Joseph A. Lewis. The name of Joseph Lewis produces many results and there was no information pointing to a connection with St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla.
Edward Mills. Many E. or Edward Mills', all with no additional information pointing to a connection with St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla.
Herbert Mitchell.  Many H. or Herbert Mitchells, all with no additional information pointing to a connection with St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla
Horace Veira. No Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) record
Ivor Wakefield. No CWGW record
William C. Wattley. No CWGC record

It should be noted that a significant amount of British Armed Forces records were destroyed during the Blitz of the Second World War.