First Afro-Caribbean British Army officer David Clemetson honoured in First World War centenary

First Afro-Caribbean British Army officer David Clemetson honoured in First World War centenary

100 years ago men of many nationalities were dying on the Western Front. One was a Jamaican-born officer
who served in the British Army. Lt. David Clemetson was only 24 when
he was killed near the Somme on the 21st of September 1918. He was born in Port
Maria in 1893, he was the son of a plantation owner and the grandson of a
slave who became a Jamaican MP. He went to boarding school in Jamaica and
then attended Clifton College in Bristol where he undertook officer training. He came to Trinity College in 1912 where he
was involved in a range of activities including rugby, cricket and rowing
and he competed in the lent bumps. While studying law, aged only 20, he enlisted and became one of 16,000 West Indians
who would fight in the war. While other black soldiers became officers,
Clemetson was the only one to reach the rank of lieutenant but his
achievement came at a price. During his four years at war David
suffered from artillery bombardments and survived to ship being torpedoed. Following this he was admitted to a Scottish hospital due to suffering shell-shock. He would return to fight
in France where he would be killed only 52 days before the war ended,
he was 24 years old. He was mourned in Jamaica. In a Jamaican newspaper a friend
dedicated the following poem to him: ‘Somewhere in France you were sleeping,
the Warriors last sleep. Far from the land that gave you birth,
And the eyes that for you weep. so a last salute to So a last salute we’ll offer you,
And a last farewell we’ll wave. God rest our gallant countrymen,
Till we meet beyond the grave.’ David Clemetson’s experiences
are so far removed from those of students studying at Cambridge
today. One of the most striking features of his story is that despite being a
light-skinned black man and army pressures at the time, David
insisted on identifying as black. I am particularly inspired by David’s boldness and his willingness to stand up
for causes that he believed in. you


  1. He was my grandfather Ernest Goffe’s cousin. Ernest came from Jamaica to study medicine, married an English doctor, Edna. They had a practi


  3. Stephen Bourne's acclaimed Black Poppies – Britain's Black Community & the Great War (The History Press, 2014) includes many inspiring stories of black servicemen in WW1 in the British Army, British West Indies Regiment, Merchant Navy & RAF. For this book Stephen received the Southwark Arts Forum Literature prize & Bernadine Evaristo described it in The Independent as "a powerful, revelatory counterbalance to the whitewashing of British history." Available from Amazon & all good bookshops (£12.99).

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