Mauritius is a large island in the Indian Ocean, lying 1,200 miles from the south eastern coast of Africa and 700 miles east of Madagascar. At the time of the First World War the population of Mauritius was 372,000. It was largely made up of Indo-Mauritians, the descendants of Indian indentured labourers, and Creoles, the descendants of African and Madagascan slaves, as well as communities of Franco-Mauritians of French ancestry and British colonists.

Home Front

WO 78/5403

Mauritius Defences, September 1913. WO 78/5403

Before the war, Mauritius was defended by around 1,000 British and Indian troops, who were based in the Imperial garrison. In October 1915 an act was passed to recruit a local defence force (CO 169/30) and in 1916 a little over 500 recruits joined the Volunteer Force. They formed three companies of infantry, a company of artillery, a company of engineers and an ambulance corps (WO 95/5450). This allowed the regular army troops in the garrison to be deployed where they were most needed, with the exception of the 59th Royal Garrison Artillery and the 25th Company, Royal Engineers, who stayed to bolster the volunteer force. In 1915 a naval wireless station was built on a site in Rose Belle (CO 167/813).

Action overseas

CO 171/85

Mauritius Government Gazette no 53, proclamation regarding British Merchant Ships in wartime, August 6, 1914. CO 171/85

In 1917 a labour battalion was raised and over 1,500 Mauritians served in Mesopotamia (WO 95/5279). A further 520 Mauritians joined the British and French Armies and close to 200 Mauritians joined the Merchant Navy. The following gallantry medals were awarded to men enlisting from Mauritius: one Distinguished Service Cross, 12 Military Crosses, two Distinguished Conduct Medals, four Military Medals, 19 Croix de Guerre, one Medaille Militaire, one Medaille d’Honneur and three Legions d’Honneur (CO 171/89).

Key figures

Sir John Chancellor

Sir John Chancellor

Governor (1911-1916)

Key documents

WO 95/5279

War diary page for Mauritius Labour Corps upon arrival at Basra, 1917-1919. WO 95/5279

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