Leading a cappella ensemble, Black Voices, to create a commemoration of West Indian troops who fought for Britain in the Great War.


The Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded the prestigious Birmingham based a cappella group, Black Voices, funding to deliver a unique and vivid commemoration of the West Indian soldiers who fought under the British West Indies Regiment for Britain and its allies during World War 1.


Supported with a grant of £39,200, ‘We Will Remember Them’ will be the culmination of extensive research, writing and composition undertaken by Black Voices and Banyan, and includes recently unearthed accounts of the experiences of the young volunteers who fought on the battlefields of France and Flanders, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan and other theatres of war during the great conflict.


Despite huge losses in the British Army and the need for men, Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener believed that black troops should not be permitted to serve alongside white units. Kitchener was overruled by King George V and, in 1915, The British West Indies Regiment was formed.


Through songs of the African and Caribbean Diasporas, poetry and anecdotes, ‘We Will Remember Them’ reveals the human stories behind some of the 15,600 men who volunteered to fight with the BWIR, those living in Britain who signed up to serve with British regiments as well as the equally less known contribution of the men and women who worked as physicians and doctors treating the wounded soldiers. The project will not only reflect upon the battles and the casualties, where they fell and where they are buried but also upon how their efforts were recognised.


Carol Pemberton MBE, Founder and Music Director of Black Voices says their contribution deserves to be better known.


‘This funding acknowledges the gap in knowledge and understanding of the contribution made by men and women of the African and Caribbean Diasporas to World War I. The generous support from the Heritage Lottery Fund means their deeds and loyalty will be remembered just as others are being remembered as the country commemorates the first world war.’


The work will showcase the mastery of Black Voices which, established in 1987, has earned a worldwide reputation as leaders of singing in the black oral tradition. The project will comprise a travelling exhibition at venues throughout the country and saved in the archives of the Library of Birmingham and the Imperial War Museum in London. ‘


‘We Will Remember Them’ will also provide teachers with a range of Key Stage 3+ learning resources and be made available to other educational establishments and community groups.


Reyahn King, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund West Midlands, said:


Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) sustains and transforms a wide range of heritage for present and future generations to take part in, learn from and enjoy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage.  HLF has supported more than 36,000 projects, allocating over £6billion across the UK, including £437million to projects in the West Midlands alone. Website: www.hlf.org.uk.


The group have a busy schedule ahead. They travel to Germany in October for appearances at the Total Vokal Festival in Munich and Eventhalle Westpark in Ingolstadt.


At the end of the month, they leave for a tour of Australia with performances at Melbourne Recital Centre), Her Majesty's Theatre , Adelaide and City Recital Hall, Sydney.