The Seychelles is a group of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, situated approximately 900 miles north of Mauritius and over 1,100 miles east of Zanzibar. At the time of the First World War the population was a little over 24,000 (CO 471/16). Most people lived on Mahe, the largest of the islands.

Its location, and the deep natural harbour at Port Victoria, made it an ideal place for refuelling for Royal Navy and merchant shipping alike.

Outbreak of war

CO 470/11

Seychelles Government Gazette no 38, Declaration of War, 5 August 1914. CO 470/11

At the start of the war the Seychelles was entirely undefended. The Governor Lieutenant Colonel Charles Richard Mackey O’Brien announced measures to establish a cyclists scouting corps (CAB 11/164), observation posts and signal fires to guard against enemy shipping (CO 470/11, CAB 11/20). On 18 August 1914 the Seychelles was effectively cut off from the outside world when the undersea cables with Zanzibar and Mauritius were cut. Communications were swiftly restored with Zanzibar, although it was only towards the end of 1914 that the line was re-established with Mauritius (CO 530/25). As a result, in 1915 a wireless station was erected at Beau Vallon, on Mahe (CO 530/26).

Home Front

WO 329/2309

Medal Roll for Seychelles Labour Corps, 1916-1917. WO 329/2309

Like many remote colonies in the First World War, the Seychelles remained free from enemy attack, but it was deeply affected by the war. A decline in trade in the key exports of coconut products and an increase in taxes and customs duties led to severe economic hardship. While the cost of living rose considerably, wages fell and unemployment soared (CO 530/32, CO 530/34).

Action overseas

CO 266/3

Seychelles Ordinance to regulate export of arms, 1914. CO 266/3

Towards the end of 1916 and the beginning of 1917, a force of 791 officers and men consisting mostly of native Seychellois was assembled and formed into the Seychelles Labour Corps (CAB 24/8/2). This was later renamed the Seychelles Carrier Corps.

The force was shipped to Tanganyika to help in the campaign against German East Africa. In the course of the campaign many died or became seriously ill from malaria and bacillary dysentery, and the force was shipped back in August 1917 (CO 530/32). Captain Norman Parsons Jewell of the East African Medical Service, Assistant Medical Officer in Seychelles, was awarded the Military Cross for the number of sick and wounded men he treated continuously and single-handedly over the course of 62 hours (WO 389/3). Soldiers from the Seychelles also fought in Mesopotamia and in France and Flanders, while others served in the Merchant Navy.

Key figures

Lt Col Charles Richard Mackey O'Brien

Lt Col Charles Richard Mackey O'Brien

Governor (1912-1918)

Norman Parsons Jewell

Norman Parsons Jewell


Key documents

  • Original correspondence, 1914-1919 CO 530/25-35
  • Government Gazettes, 1914-1919 CO 470/11-13
  • Blue books of statistics, 1914-1919 CO 471/16
  • Cabinet Defence Committee: Defence schemes: Seychelles CAB 11/164
  • Cabinet Defence Committee: Defence schemes: Seychelles CAB 11/20
  • Memorandum on the Assistance of the Colonies and Protectorates in the War CAB 24/8/2
  • Military Cross registers, 11 Dec 1916 - 26 May 1917 WO 389/3

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