This film is held by the BFI (ID: 553656).


'A Party of Trinidad men who have come from the West Indies, being inspected by the Lord Mayor, at the Mansion House'.

The Lord Mayor walks past a line of troops outside the Mansion House. He walks towards the camera - with the troops in profile - and with two men following, while a few of the troops can be seen smiling and looking over at the camera. The Lord Mayor now continues his inspection of another line, with the camera adopting a new position but with similar framing. He then addresses the men from the entrance of the Mansion House.



Under the headline ‘Trinidad Recruits at The Mansion House’, The Times reported on 4 November 1915 that ‘The Lord Mayor received at the Mansion House yesterday a contingent of 130 white recruits for the Army, including a bugler lad, 15 years old, who arrived in London from Trinidad on the previous day’ (The Times, 4 November 1915, 2). The Morning Post explained that the soldiers were ‘recruited and brought over under the auspices of the West India committee’, adding that ‘Major Brown was in charge of the contingent, who are all white men and comprise planters, shippers and others used to outdoor work generally’. The men, officially known as the ‘Trinidad Merchants’ and Planters’ Contingent’, marched from St Pancras to the Mansion House led by the band of the Royal Fusiliers and were inspected in Walbrook. The London Standard quoted from the Lord Mayor’s speech to the men. ‘You do credit’, he stated, ‘not only to yourselves but to the great Empire upon which the sun never sets’. The paper, quoted in the Daily Gleaner in Jamaica, finally wrote that this ‘fine body of men … were heartily cheered by the crowds’ (Daily Gleaner, 24 November 1915, 6).

The Daily Gleaner offered further insights into the formation of the ‘Trinidad Merchants’ and Planters’ Contingent’. It explained that ‘the fine body of youngsters’ who had volunteered had met the movement’s instigator, George F. Huggins, the President of the local Chamber of Commerce, at his home in August. The paper spoke admiringly of Huggins – ‘by his patriotic action in this matter, [he] has added to the esteem in which he has long been generally held’ – and explained that the funds for the trip were generated by a committee of professional and business men, including the Mayor of the Port of Spain (Daily Gleaner, 1 November 1915, 6).

Historian Glenford Howe emphasised the segregationist ideology that motivated the formation of the contingent, arguing that merchants, ‘very much in sympathy with the view that blacks, whites and mulattoes should not be in the same contingents’, had sought to display their loyalty by forming a white contingent of their own. Howe suggested that since the War Office had ‘reluctantly’ allowed black West Indians to participate in the war, the social divisions between the groups had become a ‘major issue’, particularly in Trinidad and Barbados. He illustrated the extreme and inherent racism within the recruitment and selection process across the West Indies, but noted that local officials, who were wary of racial unrest, had ‘tried quietly to discourage’ the formation of the Trinidad contingent, denying them police protection and the services of the band. The trip to England was thus, in part, a response to the treatment that they had received from local authorities and an attempt to generate support for this segregated contingent (Howe, 2002, 49).

Richard Smith notes that black West Indians were on display at the Lord Mayor’s show in November 1915, but suggested that the ‘favourable’ coverage – which primarily emphasised their physique – rapidly shifted and fuelled established racial fears of a ‘“Black Peril” threatening to breach the sexual and racial boundaries of the Empire’ (Smith, 2007, 176). Black soldiers from Trinidad had been sent back to the West Indies in October 1915 after refusing to parade – ‘no money, no work’ – and shortly after the arrival of Huggins’ contingent, George Grindle, the principal clerk of the Colonial Office, ‘acceded to the group’s plea that the whites should have their own contingents… and the Colonial Office instructed the governor of Trinidad to assist the merchants in their endeavour’ (Howe, 2002, 93, 49).

By 1915 two thirds of all cinemas took a newsreel. While Luke McKernan notes that Topical Budget only accounted for 11% of the market (Pathé remained dominant claiming 30% of the market with Gaumont reaching 22%), the company delivered a healthy annual profit in September and continued to prosper. McKernan describes Topical’s output as a ‘mixture of processions, protests, personalities and occasional glimpses of the war’ overseas (McKernan, 1992, 25, 28). Footage of the Trinidad troops in London had featured earlier in November 1915 in Topical Budget 219-2, ‘Trinidad to the Trenches’, showing the men ‘who have answered the Empire’s call’ marching to the Mansion House. It also featured in other newsreels. For example, in 1915 Pathé included an item entitled ‘Trinidad Troops’ (aka ‘To Fight For’), which again showed the troops marching and on inspection, while similar footage appeared in the Gaumont Graphic on 8 November under the title ‘Our Overseas Troops’. 



The title for this short item – ‘From Trinidad to Serve the Empire’ – presents this largely generic footage of the inspection of troops within an imperial context. Along with the earlier Topical Budget item, seemingly depicting the same event, it promotes a message of imperial co-operation within the war, but also shows other parts of the Empire embraced on the home front. Significantly though, these films depict the exclusively white Trinidadian troops within this imperial space. The film does not show black West Indians within London and thus, for the British audiences, the division between the home space and the colonies is maintained along racial lines. This not only relates to existing discourses and fears surrounding miscegenation, but also seemingly offers a vindication of the racial discrimination within the army and within the Caribbean.

Luke McKernan notes that Topical presented ‘a home front picture of the war, produced by people with little access to the military front’ (McKernan, 1992, 28). This is evident in this issue of Topical Budget, which also contained an item – ‘Women War Workers’ – showing an inspection of the Women’s Signal Corps. Yet, this home front setting still enabled Topical to stress the wide-ranging popular support for the war, in this case, from women and the Empire. 

Tom Rice (October 2008)


Works Cited

‘Men to Join New Armies’, Daily Gleaner, 1 November 1915, 6.

‘A Contingent from Trinidad’, Daily Gleaner, 24 November 1915, 6.

Howe, Glenford D., Race, War and Nationalism: A Social History of West Indians in the First World War (Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2002).

McKernan, Luke, Topical Budget: The Great British News Film (London: BFI, 1992).

Smith, Richard, Jamaican Volunteers in the First World War: Race, Masculinity and the Development of National Consciousness (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004)

Smith, Richard, ‘First World War’, in The Oxford Companion to Black British History, edited by David Dabydeen, John Gilmore and Cecily Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

‘Trinidad Recruits at the Mansion House’, The Times, 4 November 1915, 2.

See also: NTV 219-2 (IWM)



Series Title:

Technical Data

Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
55 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Production Company
Topical Film Company