A White Man's war?

For the administrators of the Empire the demands of the war posed a dilemma. The need for more men was clear, but mindful of the possible consequences, there was a reluctance to train and to arm non-whites, and especially Black Africans.
 
Men of the South African Labour Corps are inspected by King George V.: Photograph courtesy of the South African National Museum of Military History.Men of the South African Labour Corps are inspected by King George V.: Photograph courtesy of the South African National Museum of Military History.
 
But the need for more men, especially labourers continued to grow and the pressure increased. Some of this pressure came from black and coloured subjects of the empire who wanted to serve. Eventually a compromise was reached; they could serve in supporting roles, under the command of white Commissioned Officers. The non-combatant Foreign Labour Corps were born. Soon units were formed around the Empire, from India to the West Indies, totalling 300,000 men.
 
Men of the South African Native Labour Corps at work.: Photograph courtesy of the South African National Museum of Military History.Men of the South African Native Labour Corps at work.: Photograph courtesy of the South African National Museum of Military History.
 
Over 70,000 of them formed the South African Native Labour Corps, working first in German South West Africa and East Africa, and then in France. It was for the French port of Le Havre that the Mendi was bound in February 1917. Aboard were 823 men of the 5th Battalion South African Native Labour Corps.