In the Footsteps of the West India Regiment: Castries, St. Lucia
When visiting St. Lucia last year I was able to visit the sprawling garrison site in the capital city, Castries, that formerly housed the West India Regiment. I was shown around by local historian Gregor Williams, who has served as Chair of the St. Lucia National Trust and is an authority of the garrison site including its buildings, its armaments, and its past inhabitants.
The West India Regiment were stationed in St. Lucia throughout their history. In fact, as early as 1794, a Company of the Carolina Corps (who were later amalgamated into the West India Regiment) were sent to capture St. Lucia from the French. There are also a number of photographs in a photograph album held at Yale's Beinecke Library of the 1st West India Regiment during their stay in St. Lucia in in the early 1860s.
However, it was in the late 1880s that the garrison site at Castries was massively expanded, following a decision that Castries Harbour would become a major coaling station. In December 1888, a detachment of soldiers was transferred to St Lucia to help protect the newly reovated harbour. By 1890 this improved garrison consisted of two battalions of infantry, one white British and one black West India Regiment, companies of artillery and of engineers (including a submarine mining detachment), and medical and other staffs. This gave rise to the impressive barracks on Morne Fortuné and at Vigie to accommodate them. By 1899, there were 295 black soldiers of the West India Regiment stationed in St Lucia. They lived in barracks like the ones pictured below which now form part of the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College.
(The Barracks on Morne Fortuné)
The West India Regiment's time as a permanent garrison in Castries was brief, with the Entente Cordiale of 1906 meaning that France was no longer perceived as a threat to British interests in the region. By 1907 the structure of defence for Castries had been abandoned and the imperial garrison was withdrawn. The soldiers' permanent presence on the island was eventful despite its brevity. On a late August evening in 1891 a large disturbance broke out that led to fighting and rock throwing. It involved several black soldiers, local St Lucian women, and a few of the police constables who had been imported to St Lucia from Barbados. This kind of fracas was common according to historian Bonham C Richardson, who writes that 'soldiers of the West India Regiment were involved in an endless series of scuffles and disturbances after dark' (Richardson, 1997, p39). Soldiers involved in such breaches of discipline were held in the jail cells pictured below.
(Top: a postcard of the West India Regiment at Vigie Barracks c.1890, Bottom: the barracks today)