I live in Seaford in Sussex on the south coast of England. During the First World War there were huge Army Training Camps here and soldiers from all over the world came here. Many of the men that came from the Caribbean were formed into the British West Indies Regiment. Nineteen of these young men died in Seaford and are buried in the local cemetery. These include Corporal James Brown of St. Vincent, who was killed in a road accident in 1915 and Private Charles Jarvis of Bequia who died the following month.
One hundred years ago this week, Aubrey Mitchell died. Although Mitchell was a black soldier, he was not a member of the British West Indies Regiment.
Mitchell was born on Aug. 19, 1896 on the island of St Vincent. He was a sailor and in 1916 found himself in the Canadian port of Halifax in Nova Scotia. On Aug. 25, he went to the Army Recruiting office and joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
At the outbreak of the war, there were few black soldiers in the regular army due to the racial attitudes of the time; keen fit black men who tried to join the army were rejected only on account of their colour. Members of the black community petitioned the Canadian Government to raise a black battalion. This was agreed and the War Office in London authorised the formation of the 2nd Canadian Construction Battalion on July 5, 1916. Mitchell was one of the first men to join.
He departed Halifax for Liverpool, England on-board the SS Southland on March 28, 1917. On arrival in England the unit was attached to the Corp of Canadian Railway Troops whose main task was the maintenance of railways on the front.
Sadly, Mitchell never made it to the front but died in Seaford on April 17, 1917. He is buried at Seaford Cemetery. His smart clean grave is well maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Little is known of Mitchell other that he had a tattoo of a heart on his arm, maybe to remember an old girlfriend in St. Vincent or even his mother, Eva. If you know any more about Aubrey Mitchell, I would be pleased to hear from you. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org