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New monument to celebrate vital Caribbean contribution in WWI and WWII

A new memorial to honour the vital contribution and sacrifices made by Caribbean men and women who served in the British Armed Forces during the First and Second World Wars will be at the National Memorial Arboretum by the end of next year. 

The National Caribbean Monument Charity says it wants service personnel from the 18 British Caribbean Islands who have served to have their military service recognised and celebrated. 

Three years after the charity was founded to raise funds for a focal point for remembrance at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, a groundbreaking ceremony attended by veterans and fundraisers marked the spot where it will eventually stand. 

The foundations have now been laid in preparation for the final work which will be created by sculpture artist Martin Jennings. 

Winston White, Royal Air Force veteran and Chairman of The National Caribbean Monument Charity, is keen for generations of Caribbean service personnel to have their contribution recognised. 

He said: "People from the Caribbean have been coming to this country or serving this country for over 400 years and when I look at what they've accomplished and the amount of effort and energy they've put in, and to have nothing to represent that energy and effort, it sort of said to me, well, how can this be? 

"We do not hear about the contribution because, as it's been said in history if you want your history to be told, you have to write it yourself. 

"And now, in the last couple of years, that's what we're doing.  

"We're trying to put our history on the front page," he added.

NMA National Caribbean Monument model CREDIT BFBS.jpg
A model of the National Caribbean Monument which is due to be open to the public at the National Memorial Arboretum in 2023.

The contribution of people from the Caribbean to the British Armed Forces goes back as far as the late 1790s. 

Many were bought as slaves to boost the numbers of the West Indian Regiments in the British West Indies and their service has been distinguished over the centuries. 

Pauline Milnes, who was just 17 when she joined the British Army in 1970, co-founded The National Caribbean Monument Charity because she was determined to give Caribbean Armed Forces personnel the respect and recognition they deserve. 

She said: "I came to the National Memorial Arboretum in 2015 and one of the things I wanted to see was a monument representing the Caribbean. 

"You've got monuments from European allies, all the other Commonwealth allies, but there was nothing there for the Caribbean. So that's why it's important. 

"And also, it's not just a monument to come and look at, it's a legacy from the past, for the future and the present. 

"In my time, we didn't know the contribution. I didn't know, I was a military person and I didn't know the contribution that the people from the Caribbean had made. 

"Now they are more aware of it. But better late than never, I say," she added.

National Caribbean Monument Charity National Memorial Arboretum British West Indies map CREDIT BFBS

Sculpture artist Martin Jennings took on the significant task of creating a fitting memorial and permanent legacy. 

His previous work includes memorials for writers and poets such as Charles Dickens in Portsmouth and George Orwell outside BBC Broadcasting House plus icons from other walks of life, including British-Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole outside St Thomas' Hospital in London and Ronnie Barker in Aylesbury. 

Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony, he said: "What I've done is to design what I think is a dignified piece of work that commemorates the great heroism of all those men and women who, over many centuries, have come from the Caribbean to give their service to this country.  

"So, this isn't just a monument to those who have lost their lives, like many are, but it's a reflection of contribution of all those who have served. 

"It's, therefore, both a monument and a celebration." 

National Caribbean Monument Charity National Memorial Arboretum standard bearers CREDIT BFBS
The National Caribbean Monument Charity says it wants service personnel from the 18 British Caribbean Islands who have served to have their military service recognised and celebrated.

For now, the fundraising efforts continue as the charity is still some way from its £500,000 target but if plans stay on course, the National Caribbean Monument will be in place by the end of 2023. 

Anyone who wants to donate toward the monument can visit the JustGiving page.