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West Indian Women at War: British Racism in World War II

Ben Bousquet and Colin Douglas
Lawrence & Wishart, 1991, pp. 169.

"West Indian Women at War" by Ben Bousquet and Colin Douglas is a groundbreaking and well-researched account of the courage and tenacity of West Indian women who played crucial roles in the British war effort during the Second World War. The authors bring to light the untold story of these remarkable women, their experiences, and their significant contribution to the Allied victory. The book focuses on three different aspects of the West Indian women's war experience.

In the first section, the authors give a comprehensive historical background and delve into the social and political context of the West Indies during the 1930s and 1940s. They explore the extremely complex relationship between the West Indian colonies and Britain. The authors highlight the significance of the war to the colonial ‘subjects’ and the challenges they faced.

In the second section the authors explore the women's roles within the British military and civilian organizations and paint a colourful picture of the diverse and essential tasks performed by West Indian women, such as nursing, driving ambulances, and working in munitions factories. They also highlight the formation of the West Indian Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS).

In the third section they delve into the personal experiences and stories of these women, giving readers an intimate glimpse into their lives. The authors have skilfully woven together oral histories, personal letters, and diaries to offer a unique and empathetic perspective on the challenges faced by West Indian women during the war. They shed light on the racism and sexism they encountered in a predominantly white and male-dominated environment.

This book has been expertly researched and the storytelling is excellent. It is a treasure trove of information that had remained hidden for decades and gives a voice to these women who have been overlooked in mainstream histories of the Second World War. In this book, their vital contributions to the Allied victory have been recognised.

The book's greatest strength lies in its ability to humanize the women it portrays. They are presented as real people with unique personalities, rather than just faceless figures in a war narrative. Including personal anecdotes, interviews, and excerpts from letters and diaries adds depth and emotion to the story and will allow readers to connect with these women on a personal level.

The book is an essential read for anyone interested in the social and cultural history of the Second World War, as well as those looking to understand the broader impact of the war on the West Indies and the Caribbean. It is a testament to the courage, determination, resilience, perseverance, and spirit of the West Indian women who, despite facing great adversity, made a lasting impact on the course of history.


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