As Trooping the Colour, the traditional ceremony performed every year in front of the queen, gets underway on Saturday, Belong looks at the contribution made to the British armed service both now and in history by commonwealth and Caribbean soldiers.
The British army has once again called for help from the Commonwealth to fill a longstanding recruitment crisis in its ranks, but many are calling for a change in the citizenship rights of commonwealth recruits after they leave the armed services.
With a shortfall in armed forces personnel estimated at over 8,000, the British government has opened all ranks and roles to citizens from all Commonwealth countries and is extending the right for women to join as well.
Despite cutting the size of the regular army from 114,000 in 2010 to 82,000 by 2020, the army has not been able to get the numbers it needs since the recruitment process was privatised in 2012, with the shortfall ranging from 21% to 45% of the army’s requirement.
As a result of the collapse in new recruits from the British Isles over 5,000 or around 4.5% of the army’s personnel come from foreign and Commonwealth nations, the majority of which are from Africa, the Caribbean, Nepal, and Fiji.
The number of Gurkhas, who have served in the British army for over two centuries, will be increased by more than 800 posts, and yet the immigration status of the Gurkhas, as well as other Commonwealth troops, has long been a matter of considerable embarrassment.
Until 2004, the Gurkhas and other Commonwealth personnel were not allowed to settle in the UK at all after they had completed their service.
Since the belated change in the law, they are allowed to settle in the UK, but only if they meet UK immigration controls, which are the same as for all foreign civilians.
In practise this means that veterans must have been living full time in the UK for four years, obtainable via four years of military service, and must pay a non-refundable fee of £2,389 per person. This figure does not include a spouse or any dependent children.
But then should a soldier from the Commonwealth wish to bring their family over to the UK, then immigration rules also state that they must earn over £18,600 to bring their spouse over and £22,400 to bring over one child, with a further £2,400 for each additional child. But as a soldier’s basic pay is just £18,600 a year, most won’t be able to afford it.
The Army Families Federation (AFF) believes that at least 500 serving commonwealth troops are affected and in 2017 the Royal British Legion spent over £36,000 in grants on ex-soldiers dealing with immigration issues.
The Royal British Legion and other campaigners say this is a direct result of an unjust Home Office policy with a neo-colonial mentality, whose deliberate policy of creating a ‘hostile environment’ for all immigrants was exposed last year by the Windrush scandal.
Britain’s Shame: The Forgotten Caribbean Soldiers
Many Caribbean soldiers performed crucial roles in the British armed services and yet the tens of thousands of men who served in World War One and Two have largely been forgotten and airbrushed out of history.
Around 10,000 soldiers volunteered from the Caribbean colonies to join the British armed forces fighting the Nazis and the Japanese. But many of them felt, as well as the few surviving veterans, that their contribution has been forgotten and have campaigned for equality.
Veterans formed the West Indian Association of Service Personnel to support ex-servicemen and honour those who lost their lives in the wars.
“If we didn’t form that association the public wouldn’t know the participation of black West Indians who served the British Empire in their hour of need,” Mr. Allan Wilmot, who joined the Royal Navy in 1941 at just 15, told the BBC.
Caribbean soldiers also served in World War One, after King George called on the Caribbean colonies to help a desperate lack of manpower.
But Caribbean soldiers were not allowed to fight alongside their white British counterparts and instead served for lower pay in the Labour corps digging trenches or building roads.
The British West Indian Regiment played a crucial role in World War One, and just like in World War Two, the contribution of Caribbean soldiers is largely overlooked by history.
“Blacks were begrudgingly accepted into the war effort, but their support was absolutely essential. Without it, the outcome would have been very different. The war heralded a major step towards the freedoms we enjoy today, a slackening of colonial reins and our people’s ascent into various administrative roles in their homeland,” Pagget Messiah, chairman of the Ex-Servicemen’s Association, told the BBC.