Men of the British West Indies Regiment cleaning their rifles on the Amiens Road near Albert, September 1916. IWM Q1201
Men of the British West Indies Regiment cleaning their rifles; Albert – Amiens Road, September 1916. IWM Q1201

For a large part of 2012 the Research Department has been working on an AHRC-sponsored scoping study called Whose Remembrance?. The study asked the IWM to identify whose stories were being included in the history of the First and Second World Wars and how this was affecting patterns of remembrance. In particular the IWM has looked at how the experiences of colonial troops have been studied by academics and displayed by museums.

Both conflicts mobilised the British Empire and its Commonwealth for war and necessitated the deployment of enlisted men and women across the world, in foreign places far from home. To take just a few instances from the First World War, this meant not only would an Englishman have served abroad in Palestine and Egypt but men of the Indian Army and British West Indies Regiment would have served on, or in support of, the Western Front in France and Belgium.

A group of wounded Indian soldiers walk across the cobbles of a French village. IWM Q53348
A group of wounded Indian soldiers walk across the cobbles of a French village. IWM Q53348

These wars were about great migrations of men and materials and the stories of new sights seen abroad being brought back home, discussed and recorded. Which of these stories are those now being told? How has a prevailing narrative of wars fought in defence of the British Isles impaired public understanding of the home fronts experienced in other parts of the Empire, in East Africa, India and the Caribbean?

Collectively the Research Department has drawn up databases of published literature on the topic and held two workshops for academics, museum professionals, community representatives and social scientists. It has also commissioned research reports from external scholars and attended conferences all with the aim of assessing whose stories are being told and whose lives remembered.

A number of blog posts over the coming weeks will go into different parts of the project in greater detail, for now though, here are a few links to excellent sites with information on colonial experiences of both world wars:

  • The Memorial Gates Trust gives a good overview of the roles played by five million men and women from Britain’s former empire in the Armed Forces.
  • The Open University’s Making Britain database is a brilliant source for the modern history of South Asians in Britain.
  • The Herbert Gallery’s Empire At War project is an engaging collection of interviews with Coventry people from black and Asian backgrounds on their Second World War experiences.
  • The Colonial Film database which contains information for over 6000 films showing life in the British Empire, including many from IWM's own collections.