Military History of First Jamaican Officers WWI, Researched by a Black Grandson

Military History of First Jamaican Officers WWI, Researched by a Black Grandson

Posted on November 9 by admin
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Today’s guest post is from Gerald A. Archambeau, author of A Struggle to Walk with Dignity.

My White, third-generation grandfather, Inspector of Police Herbert T. Thomas, was also a lecturer, explorer, naturalist and author of three books on Jamaica. Grandfather Herbert died three years before I was born. My mother was proud of her farther, and before her passing she gave me the three books he had written. My mother and I became Canadian immigrants in the ’40s, and we appreciated the good life we had in Canada. I wrote my own autobiography, A Struggle to Walk with Dignity in 2008, which tells the truth about my mixed family background.

Grandfather Herbert was married twice. His first wife, Gertrude, was a White Jamaican who bore him eight children. Two died, leaving five boys and one girl. All the boys went to the UK to join the British Army in WWI, and their mother followed later with her daughter. My step-uncles became the first Jamaican-born officers in the British Army: four captains and a major. My grandfather Herbert lost four of his sons from his first marriage in WWI. Only one survived, and lived to serve in WWII. All of them had a distinguished military history. Sadly, I found out that my grandfather and sons have not been remembered in their country of  birth because of their race.

Losing four sons took its toll, and Gertrude died in the UK. Years later my grandfather met my Black grandmother Leonora who bore him four daughters, all of whom became educated women who lived long lives. UK Military Genealogist Alan Greverson took an interest in my step-uncles’ and grandfather’s contributions. After Jamaica got its independence, erasing history was common; it was as if White Jamaicans, Chinese, East Indians, Jews and others did not exist. All this family information is in the Clara Thomas Archives at York University. It’s an undeniable look at how reverse discrimination can affect our history.

Photos are of Captain-Francis Hastings Thomas.

Gerald Augustus Archambeau was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and was sent to Montreal in 1947. He worked for Canadian Pacific and Canadian National until the 1960s, when declining passenger rail traffic and the ascendance of air travel caused him to switch to a career with a major Canadian airline in Toronto. After his retirement, Gerald settled in St. Catharines, Ontario.