The Windward Islands, in the West Indies, was made up of the British possessions of Grenada, St Vincent and St Lucia. Grenada, the smallest, is the southernmost island and St Lucia, the largest, is the northernmost island. Together, they formed the Windward Islands Government, under the leadership of a common Governor, but each island kept its own institutions.

Although the three islands faced the prospect of food shortages, and although they all made a substantial contribution to the war effort, they were unequally affected by the war.


CO 321/277

Windward Islands, original correspondence, sketch map of Grenada, 1914. CO 321/277

In Grenada, the only real difficulty was the potential scarcity of foodstuffs which, at the beginning of the war, caused social unrest. The government took a series of measures such as importing flour and salt fish from Canada, giving themselves the authority to set fixed prices, and encouraging people to plant crops. This enabled the Governor to write, in December 1914, ‘people are enjoying cheap food’, which restored social order (CO 321/277/28).

Grenada rather benefited from the war, which stimulated trade with America, and triggered an increase in the prices of cotton, nutmeg and cocoa (CO 106/112).

Grenada made a substantial contribution to the war effort. When the possibility of sending a West Indian contingent overseas was first raised, the population reacted very positively. Notices were issued in early 1915, asking people to give their name should they wish to join such a contingent – 245 men responded immediately (CO 321/281).

The first contingent, composed of 150 men, left the colony on 19 September 1915 (CO 321/282/39). Over the course of the war, Grenada contributed, through six drafts, a total of 445 officers and men (CO 321/304/16). In August 1917, an ordinance was passed to make military service compulsory (CO 105/21), but it was never necessary to put it into action.

Grenada also contributed to various war charities, in particular the Prince of Wales’ Fund and the Red Cross Society. In 1914, the Legislative Council voted to purchase cocoa to the value of £6,000 as a gift for the troops (CO 321/277/28).

St Vincent

CO 1047/836

Map of St Vincent, 1914. CO 1047/836

When the war broke out, the economic outlook of St Vincent was not encouraging. The war caused an immediate and steep decline of the cotton market since the island mainly exported its produce to France and Belgium (CO 321/277/28). The arrowroot industry at first benefited from the war, as it was in high demand for the sick and wounded, but exports were greatly affected by the lack of shipping (CO 265/98).

From 1917, however, the economy picked up. The sea island cotton produced in St Vincent was extremely valuable in the manufacture of aeroplanes, and the colonial government bought the entire output for the Admiralty in October (CO 265/97). The island’s arrowroot and maize market also started benefitting from the war, due to a shortage of wheat flour, which had to be imported.

Maximum prices were fixed for bread and other foodstuffs. The scarcity of food was a very acute problem in the island, even though people had been encouraged to plant crops at the beginning of the war (CO 321/277/28).

There was some anxiety in the winter of 1915, when German raiders appeared in the Atlantic Ocean (CO 321/284/28), and in 1916, when U-boats became more active (CO 321/292). It was feared that some South American countries, notably Venezuela, might harbour German troops and ships. This resulted in a 4.7 firing gun being mounted in St Vincent in October 1917 (CO 264/30).

Over the course of the war, the island contributed a total of 534 officers and men to the British West Indies Regiment, while 54 served in other units, notably Canadian units (CO 321/306).

St Vincent also contributed to various war charities, notably the Prince of Wales’ Fund. In 1914, the Legislative Council voted to donate £1,000 in arrowroot for the troops (CO 321/277/28).

St Lucia

CO 321/277

Windward Islands, original correspondence, sketch map of St Lucia 1914. CO 321/277

In St Lucia, the main concern for the authorities was to maintain an adequate food supply. This was made harder by the lack of shipping and the control of exports from the USA and Canada (CO 258/110). In 1914, the authorities set up maximum prices for foodstuffs, in agreement with five of the main dealers in imported foodstuffs (CO 257/33).

The coal trade was severely hit as much fewer ships were stopping in Castries, the chief town and harbour. However, the high prices of sugar, and good prices of cocoa and lime juice ensured that ‘no real hardship was experienced in St Lucia’ (CO 258/114).

At the outbreak of war, the local defence and police forces were mobilised, and detachments were assigned to protect the area surrounding the harbour (CO 321/277/28).

Over the course of the war, St Lucia contributed five officers and 354 men to the British West Indies Regiment. Although 40 St Lucians embarked on HMS Good Hope as stokers, 27 were killed when the ship sank off the Chilean coast on 1 November 1914 (CO 321/283/42).

St Lucia also contributed a total of £21,495 6s to various war purposes and charities, ranging from Belgian Relief, to guava jelly and £2,000 in cocoa for the troops (CO 258/114).

Key figures

Edward Rawle Drayton

Edward Rawle Drayton

Administrator of Grenada (1892-1915)

Herbert Ferguson

Herbert Ferguson

Administrator of Grenada (1915-1930)

Charles Gideon Murray

Charles Gideon Murray

Administrator of St Vincent (1909-1915), Commissioner of St Lucia (1915-1918), Acting Governor of the Windward Islands (1916-1917)

Reginald Popham Lobb

Reginald Popham Lobb

Administrator of St Vincent (1915-1923)

William Douglas Young

William Douglas Young

Commissioner of St Lucia (1914-1915)

Key documents

CO 255/15

St Lucia Defence of the Colony Ordinance, 1916. CO 255/15

  • Windward Islands original correspondence (1874-1951) CO 321
  • Grenada, Government Gazettes (1834-1975) CO 105
  • Miscellanea from Grenada, including shipping returns and blue books of statistics (1764-1938) CO 106
  • St Vincent: Government Gazettes CO 264
  • Miscellanea from St Vincent, including shipping returns and blue books of statistics CO 265
  • St Lucia: Government Gazettes CO 257
  • Miscellanea from St Lucia, including newspapers, reports of protectors of slaves and blue books of statistics CO 258