BAME Seafarers in the First World War

In January 2018 Port Towns and Urban Cultures at the University of Portsmouth, and Gateways to the First World War, held a workshop which explored the contribution of “non-White” mariners and service personnel. It was a popular and well-attended event which has revealed the deficit in the public’s knowledge of, and hitherto under-explored research into, Black and Minority Ethnic personnel who served or died at sea between 1914-1918.

Antony Firth presenting his research

Seafarers in general are largely overlooked in the popular memory of the First World War. Most attention to the idea of an “ordinary” service person has tended to elicit memories of the “Tommy” and the Pal’s Brigades who signed up to fight in the trenches on the Western Front. This sea blindness is amplified when we explore popular knowledge of ethnic minorites.  Indeed, the very label “BAME” or “Black and Minority Ethnic” is tricky and not deemed accurate by some, and it is clear that much work has to be undertaken to fully explore and highlight the issues of racial identity and the idea of “war work” in our remembrance of those who lost their lives during the First World War.

See the full report on the event from Co-organiser, Antony Firth

Asif Shakoor being interviewed by Georgie Wemyss (University of East London)

The good news is that there are exciting plans afoot for this under-researched area of maritime history, and we hope to help the public engage with this history. Below is a the link to the full conference report, and videos of all the presentations and group discussions which took place on the day. Gateways to the First World War and PTUC hope to hold a larger public event which will inspire and guide community groups on First World War BAME Seafarer projects, so please keep a look out on this webspace, or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

If you are inspired to start tracing the history of BAME Seafarers in the First World War, we have a Resources page with helpful links to sources and publications related to the First World War and BAME. For inspiration, you can read Asif Shakoor’s story about researching his both his Grandfathers’ war service.

We would also love to hear from those who are either scholars, or researchers (both academic and non-academic) who could add to this discussion. You may wish to write a short blog about your research, or register your interest for presenting at, or attending, future events please get in touch!