The Empire needs men

A well-attended project event about black soldiers during the First World War
A well-attended project event about black soldiers during the First World War

Heritage Grants

LONDON, London
Narrative Eye
The SS Mendi sailed from South Africa to Great Britain, carrying over 700 African soldiers to fight in the Western Front. The boat capsized, resulting in the death of over 600 black troops whose bodies still remain in the English Channel.
"Young people were really inspired because they don’t get to see role models outside of sport or music. It was a shock for them to see young black heroes."
Project leader
Narrative Eye helped London community groups research how people from Africa and the Caribbean contributed to the First World War.

The Empire Needs Men project focused on the diversity of men who fought in the First World War.

It was led by Narrative Eye, which promotes black British literature and history. They worked with partners including 100 Mothers Movement, an organisation supporting women, mothers and their children; Eastside Young Leaders' Academy, a school for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds; and Gangs Unite, which supports young men at risk of joining gangs. 

People from Tottenham and Walthamstow researched whether the country their families were from in Africa or the Caribbean helped in the war effort and if their ancestors were involved in the war. A visit to the Imperial War Museum inspired conversations about how the role of black soldiers is represented.

Building on the research, The Empire Needs Men exhibition was developed, which toured libraries and community centres across London. Community events were delivered and a booklet was produced, including information about the history of the involvement of black people in the war, as well as biographies of known soldiers.  

The project won Haringey Council’s Celebrating Diversity Award 2014.

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