This extract comes from John Henderson’s travel guide to Jamaica, published in the early 20th century. In this chapter he focusses on the daily routines of troops in the West Indies, discussing the lives of both officers and their men.

Daily routines of men in the West India Regiments

According to John Henderson, privates in the West India Regiments would work at drill or musketry until midday before dining. Free afternoons would be spent in Kingston if possible, where the private would plume ‘himself on the side walks to the admiration of the black and yellow girls’. As well as parading within the barracks, Henderson alleges that the men of the Regiment would ‘parade at large in the brilliant full-dress uniform of his regiment. Scarlet and yellow or scarlet and white, zouave jackets, and white or yellow spats’ after church on Sundays, much to the admiration of ‘men and women alike’. Henderson highlights that for the rank and file of African descent the Regiment’s uniform was a source of pride that attracted the admiration of others. It was believed that those of African descent within the West India Regiment were better at coping with the tropical sun and heat, and John Henderson states that this was another source of pride for the men, writing: 

‘he knows that he has his value ... he is not jealous because he is too conscious of superiority. Could a white regiment have marched in the full glare of the noon sun through Ashanti and not dropped a man?’

The lives of officers

The life of the rank and file within the Regiments was a great contrast to the lives of officers, who were supposed to be responsible for the drilling of their troops. In some cases, Henderson reveals that some officers found this work monotonous and passed it on to their non-commissioned officers. He writes of the West India Regimental officer that he ‘gets through his early morning work as quickly as possible, and then scrambles, schoolboy fashion, into the playing fields’. Henderson emphasises the social lives of the officers over their military duties, stating that ‘in Jamaica the Army is mainly considered as a prop to society’ and that officers were sought after as ‘dancing men, players at the game of tennis and possible husbands for fair daughters’. He details the numerous sports that the men play and the high society events that they receive invitations to.

What is significant about the book's publication date?

It is important to note that this extract comes from a book that was published in 1906, two years after Britain and France had officially made peace and agreed to co-operate in the 1904 Entente Cordiale. It describes military life in the Caribbean long after Britain and France had ceased to fight over the Caribbean islands. Had this been written a hundred years earlier, when many of the British Caribbean islands were under threat, it is likely that the priorities and activities of the men would have been very different.