Caribbean Women in WW2

West Indian Women in WW2Caribbean Women in WW2 Britain

There were plenty Caribbean Women serving in WW2. When we think of the British Armed Forces, there is often a tendency to think exclusively of men.  In the past this has been largely due to the majority of Armed forces being made of almost entirely of men.

However, WW2 saw plenty of Women sign up to the British Armed Forces.  The exact numbers of Caribbean women serving in the BritishArmed forces can be difficult to pin down to an exact number.  However, Richard Smith, writing in the Oxford Companion to Black British History. 


About 600 West Indian Women were recruited for the Auxiliary Territorial Service, arriving in Britain in the Autumn of 1943.  The enlistment of these volunteers was accomplished despite official misgivings and obstruction.

Around 80- Caribbean women joined the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) and 30 joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service.(ATS)


Caribbean Women in WW2
Caribbean Women in WW2 © IWM

Lilian Bader

Lilian Bader
Lilian Bader

Liverpool Born, Lilian Bader is one of three generations of her Family who Served in the British Armed Forces. Her Father had been a Merchant Seaman in the first world war.  She and her brothers were separated after they were orphaned. Stephen Bourne recounts in his book ‘The Motherland Calls’, that Lillian was popular in school but found it difficult to secure fulltime work. After securing a job in the NAAFI at Catterick camp, she was ‘let go’ due to a colour bar that existed in the British Services at the start of the war. Not deterred by the initial knock back, Lillian determined to join the RAF after hearing a groups of West Indian soldiers on the Radio, say how they had been rejected from the Army, but they had better luck with the RAF.

In March 1940 Lillian was accepted into the WAAF, but found herself the only coloured person. Despite the obvious differences Lillian worked hard and soon became an ‘acting corporal’. Whilst in the Services she met her future husband, Ramsay Bader, who was of mixed race, having a White English mother and a Sierra Leoneon father.

Constance Goodridge Mark (Connie Mark)

Constance Goodridge Mark, nee Mcdonald, was another example of  displayed loyalty typical of Caribbean women in WW2, wanting to serve Britain in it’s hour of need.

Born in Kingston Jamaica. She joined the British Army in 1943, serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, The Womens royal Army Corps working She later became the Senior Medical Secretary in the Royal Army Medical corps, Where she served for 10 years, working in the North Caribbean.

Many years later she took part in the “Their Past your Future” Campaign run by the Imperial War Museum.

Connie had felt that the contribution of ‘West Indians’ in WW2 was being ignored.She decided to do something to try to educate people about the contributions of Black people in the Second World War. Recounting a story about an Age Concern Meeting, she had taken some photographs of West Indian ex-servicewomen.

quoteThat caused such a stir, people said, “We never knew there were black ex-servicewomen”, and that we even came to England”.

After that she applied to the ‘Greater London Arts for a Grant. She searche ,for photographs in the Imperial War Museum and obtained others from West Indian Ex-Servicemen and Women.  She put together an exhibition for the 5oth Anniversary of the end of WW2.

Listen to a clip of Constance talk

West Indian A.T.S Girls Abused

Whilst the vast majority of reported stories have a lot of positivity, There were of course negative reports to be found. In an Article Called ‘These Coloured “Intruders” ‘ The weekly magazine ‘John Bull’ reported some of the racism that Caribbean service personel had to endure whilst billeted in Britain.

quoteRudeness to colonial Service girls in this country is surprisingly common…
A West Indian girl in the A.T.S. was refused a new issue of shoes by her officer, who added:’At home you don’t wear shoes anyway.’ An Army Officer to a West Indian A.T.S.: ‘If I can’t get white women, i’ll something well do without.’


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7 thoughts on “Caribbean Women in WW2

  • 3rd November 2013 at 4:27 pm

    i think that there should be and there is because i am proud they let caribbian woman ww2 but why not other woman?

  • 13th November 2013 at 10:10 am

    It is very interesting to hear that there was a Black presence within both ww1 and 2. However, considering the war was fought for imperialistic gains and empire buildings, I don’t feel that the black presence within the war is nothing to be proud of. During this period, most of Africa was still colonised by western capitalist powers and the wars were fought over country distribution and economic domination. I think we should remember that during ww1 a lot of black Africans were forced to fight against their will also, in a war which led to the destruction of their countries.

    • 11th November 2015 at 4:29 pm

      Many countries were built on the FORCED labour of black slaves…….That does not mean that we should not be recognised for our contribution to the building of that country as it was built from our sweat, blood and tears. Whether the black presence in the two world wars was voluntary or not, the fact is we need to be recognised for our positive contributions. Unfortunately however in history books our contribution is rarely mentioned. During celebrations of ‘remembrance’ we still remain invisible and our contributions made to be seen as insignificant by those in power. This should not be be case.

  • 12th October 2015 at 2:19 pm

    This was a very interesting read that coincides with my visit to the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton. There I learned during slavery, a lot of black people joined the army in order to win their freedom. It’s very interesting to know that decades after slavery was pronounced illegal, not just black people, but black women especially were joining the British army. I wonder what urged these women to join the ranks even though they faced a lot of bigotry and discrimination in joining the war?

  • 21st July 2017 at 7:20 pm

    If the narrative that colonialism was some kind of living racist hell these women would not have volunteered for Britain’s war effort. You cant have it both ways.

    • 29th September 2017 at 9:43 pm

      Well, it depends on who is narrating. The average West Indian in the pre-and even post-war era, There was a lot of pride and connection to Britain. some people will have suffered under the system, others will have worked within it.

  • 20th November 2017 at 12:08 pm

    They should make a film about these women. I can only feel a great respect for these women. Also anger for how some were disrespected.


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