The British West Indies Regiment & The Kings African Rifles In The Great War

British West Indies Regiment and The Kings African Rifles in The Great War

Learning Through The Arts received funding from The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a joint partnership heritage project with Arts Central, Milton Keynes and The Queens Park Arts Centre, Aylesbury.

Thanks to National Lottery players, British West Indies Regiment and The Kings African Rifles in The Great War project fills the gap in the history of The Great War, whilst also bringing recognition to men who served in The British West Indies Regiment and the Kings African Rifles, whose stories have been untold over the past 100 years.

Jane Charles, Gallery Coordinator for Arts Central says:

‘We are honoured to have been chosen to host this important exhibition in Milton Keynes. To share these untold stories with the public will be an important tribute to so many during this century year. I hope the exhibition is supported and well received by Milton Keynes residents.’

 Cornerstone Gallery, Milton Keynes

The touring exhibitions have been very educational and informative.  One the one hand it has enabled volunteers to develop research and arching skills by being involved in sourcing materials and photographs from the Imperial War Museum and The British Library, locating references and books in other local Libraries.

Feedback and comments left behind by visitors illustrate that heritage has been better interpreted and explained:

“Very insightful and seeing how the place where my family came from may have taken part.” Ebin Omoyele

“Amazing photos with some excellent portraits of soldiers from the West Indies and Africa, our allies. Hope their contribution is highlighted during this centenary year.” Paul Kirby

“Wonderful display-Showing the contribution and sacrifices during WW1. Lovely to see and read about the Kings African Rifles.  Thank you”  Sarah Gates C/0 New Bradwell and District Royal British Legion.

“Very interesting and informative exhibition, but a reminder of what it meant to live under ‘colonisation’ that the black soldier was allowed to come thus far but no farther. It would be good if this could be shown at Schools! Thank you”

“Amazing photos – so clear for the time. Us British really were not informed of the help and support from the West Indies and Jamaica. Thank you”. Mike R

“Very interesting to these amazing photos! The story of these soldiers are not often told”. H. Edordn

Seminar Presentation Cornerstone Gallery, Milton Keynes

A presentation was held on 15th September at Cornerstone Gallery Meeting Room to provide an opportunity for heritage to be better interpreted through an interactive discussion and presentation on the role of The BWIR and The KAR in The Great War.

The participants were given a tour through the exhibition on the first floor, before being shown a presentation and opening up a discussion between the group.

It was evident that the participants found this particularly useful.

Feedback from participants:

“I liked both sections (the exhibition and presentations). It was very informative, learned new things/info. I got asked questions answered and everything was straight to the point”.

“How the Nigerians took part in the first World War. The origin of places in Africa and just being talked through what was happening in the pictures” Ebun

MK:MIX Black History Month Celebrations 2018, Arts Central, Milton Keynes

We also loaned the exhibition to MK MIX for their Black History Month activities from 15th – 31st of October. Read more about the organisation here.

A visitor to the exhibition reflecting on the photographs

The exhibition was emotionally charged.  People responded to it with a mixture of feelings: surprise that these stories existed, anger that they had never heard about these stories and these contributions by black people and sadness that black people had contributed so much to the empire but were never really in the limelight.

School children as well members of the Milton Keynes community from various walks of life saw the exhibition including the Mayor of Milton Keynes.

There were really interesting and heated points of discussion and we hope the exhibition returns to us next year.

Nana Oguntola
Black History Month 2018, Milton Keynes

Queen’s Park Arts Centre, Aylesbury

Feedback from visitors to the exhibition:

“Wonderful striking photographs!!! Fantastic insight into a very much untold and forgotten part of history – very informative. Thank you”

“My father served in the KAR (Tanzania) in the WWII. I had known that Tanzania was part of German East Africa – but hadn’t realised that Africans served on both sides in WWI. Part of the sad story of colonialism” Jacqueline Eustace

“Very interesting exhibition and I learnt more about W.W.1. and the people who fought, who came from Africa and Jamaica.” Sue Jones

“Truly  a ‘World War’ with sacrifices from so many nations who taught for our freedom-sad insight to Colonialism that African Soldiers could not rise above ‘Sergeant’ ” David and Sylvia Kent

“This is a wonderful exhibition. My father served in the KAR in WW2 (as a White officer)-While soldiers were divided by colour (Black soldiers still not officers) It is great to see pictures of this little-known and important part of our history. Thank you.” Deborah Cooper

MK Central Library, First Floor Exhibition Space, Milton Keynes
6th March-27th April 2019

The exhibition took place on the First Floor exhibition space of MK Central Library. Featuring the touring photographs of the BWIR & KAR during The Great War.

To close the exhibition, there was a presentation that unpicked the exhibit, learning of the contributions and sacrifices of the men of the British West indies Regiment and King’s African Rifles in the Great War.

Creative Family Workshops, Milton Keynes Central Library 28th – 31st May 2019

As part of May 2019 half term , Learning Through The Arts ran four days of family activities celebrating the contributions of the BWIR & KAR.

Silent Screams 7th-9th June 2019, Queens Park Arts Centre, Aylesbury

Learning Through The Arts presents Silent Screams; a captivating story of courage, resistance and self–sacrifice. Written by Ademola Adeniji and Directed by Sally Barnard.

Above: Stills from Queens Park Arts Centre Performance June 2019

Audience Feedback/ Comments:

“Riveting story of atrocities carried out by the colonial powers in WW1,inc murder, forced deportation. Excellent acting, all so versatile, wonderful.  Interesting illustration of colonial manipulation using animals from the jungle. Love to see more!”

“Wonderful. Tragic horror filled story told and acted with passion, feeling and comedy in an emotional and serious way. Most enjoyable provoking play.”

“Wonderful use of physicality and voice. Stunning and moving chorus work – painted a picture with art, not things! Taught me things I never knew.”

“Brilliant performance in turn shocking harrowing story, kept me spellbound, educated me about a little-known aspect of the 1st world war and colonial history. Brilliant storytelling especially the final story-excellent parody. Thank you.”

“Powerful story and beautiful characterisations’ particularly enjoyed the ensemble and storytelling parts. The actors were brilliant. Azibo really stood out. Thank you for sharing a story often untold.”

“Fantastic production. Emotional journey, Great characterisation. Hard hitting but necessary Well done to all involved.”

“This production was amazing, heart wrenching and thought provoking. The acting was very genuine and transported the audience inside the play. The direction and writing were great and I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed!”


Set in Nyasaland (Malawi) in 1917, a church minister’s attempt to stop the forced conscription of local men into the army brings him in conflict with the might of the colonial authority.

Through a blend of audience participation, African drumming, and physical theatre, the audience are taken on a journey based on a true story less told.

Silent Screams brings to the fore the involvement of Africans in the Great War, just as it replicates the conflict amongst European powers in their African colonies.

BWIR Digital Booklet

Please click here to read and download our brief guide to the British West Indies Regiment, produced as part of this heritage project.


About the Heritage Lottery Fund

 Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about – from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife.  Follow us on Twitter, and use #HLF supported.