Black history revealed

13th July 2007 at 01:00
The First Black Britons DVD

Beckmann Visual Publishing pound;14.99 (pound;11.49 online)

This hour-long film, originally seen on BBC television, is full of paradoxes and surprises. It tells the story of the West India Regiment, set up during the war against the French in 1793 to protect Britain's sugar interests in the Caribbean and not disbanded until 1927.

The first troops were originally bought by the government as slaves, only to be immediately freed as a fighting caste of "superior Negroes". As loyal soldiers of the Empire Queen Victoria had a hand in designing their uniforms they had to suppress revolts in Jamaica against landowners and put down "rebellions" in West Africa, the very region from which their forebears had been taken as slaves.

The film uses a mixture of talking heads, archive pictures, scenes on location in Barbados and Jamaica, and dramatised interviews featuring William Pitt, Thomas Carlyle, soldiers and various farm workers.

We learn about the two Victoria Crosses awarded to members of the regiment and about the campaigns in which they took part. Pupils at key stage 4 will find plenty to ponder and discuss, not least the roundabout routes between our imperial past and our current notions of citizenship

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