Tens of thousands of Barbadians, Jamaicans, and other British West Indians journeyed to Panama during the first two decades of the twentieth century, seeking work in the Canal Zone, on the plantations of the United Fruit Company, and in port cities on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Following the outbreak of World War I and the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, migrant workingmen pursued a new employment opportunity—wartime military service in the British armed forces—as the job market on the isthmus contracted sharply and wages stagnated. This article examines the enlistment of British islanders in Panama as soldiers in the British West Indies Regiment during World War I. It responds to recent calls to “bridge the gap between military history and labor history” by exposing the dynamic interplay between interimperial labor migration and military recruitment in the circum-Caribbean.

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