Posts Tagged ‘Black’

Revealed: How Britons welcomed black soldiers during WWII, and fought alongside them against racist GIs

December 6th, 2015

“These men have been sent to this country to help in its defence, and whatever their race or creed they should be entitled to the same treatment as our own soldiers.”

Letter to the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette

While white GIs sought to have them banned from pubs, clubs and cinemas and frequently subjected them to physical and verbal assault, many ordinary Britons welcomed the black troops into their homes – and on several occasions physically stood up to their tormentors.

The book, Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War, also reveals how in June 1943 there was a public outcry when four black servicemen were refused service in a bar in Bath, for no reason other than the colour of their skin.

One resident described the episode as “disgraceful” and wrote to the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette stating: “These men have been sent to this country to help in its defence, and whatever their race or creed they should be entitled to the same treatment as our own soldiers.”

A 320th Barrage Balloon crew in action, Corporal A. Johnson of Houston, Texas walks a VLA balloon toward a winch with help from two men in his crew on Omaha Beach. The VLA balloons flew up to 2,000 feet

In one of the most notorious incidents fighting broke out when white Military Police officers – one of whom was drunk – began harassing black GIs outside a pub in the Lancashire village of Bamber Bridge.

But in what could be regarded as a surprising turn of events the locals sided of the black troops.

A later account of the riot, which began on June 24, 1943, stated: “The MPs expected the locals to resent the presence of the blacks but the locals sided with the blacks. The MPs, using racial expletives, returned with two more and tried to frighten the blacks, who fought back with bricks and bottles.”

More than seven servicemen were wounded in the fighting and 32 black soldiers were later court-martialled. Between November 1943 and February 1944 there were 56 such clashes between white troops and their black counterparts, an average on more than four a week.

GI Willie Howard, of the segregated 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion – whose task on the D-Day beaches was to raise the curtain of balloons protecting Allied troops from German planes – later went as far as to say: “Our biggest enemy was our own troops.”

Willie Howard

In another notable case a public campaign, including a petition of thousands of British signatures, led to the US President Eisenhower revoking the death sentence on Leroy Henry, a black soldier wrongly convicted of raping a woman near Bath, in May 1944.

The book also cites a letter from the owner of a café in Oxford to the Times, in which he recalled a black soldier presenting him with a letter from his commanding officer asking him to be served.

The café owner, a Mr D. Davie-Distin, promptly served him and said: “Had there been the slightest objection from other customers I should not have had any hesitation in asking them all to leave.”

And he added that the incident had left him “ashamed” that a man “fighting for the world’s battle for freedom and equality” had to resort to such humiliating measures to obtain a meal.

For the black GIs, to be treated with basic decency, after years of suffering humiliation, abuse and the daily threat of lynching from whites in the segregated southern states of their native US was, in the words of one of their number, Arthur Guest, like “a spark of light”.

File photo: Arthur Guest holds his wartime portrait

Guest was a sergeant with the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion – entirely composed of black soldiers led by white officers – which arrived in Pontypool, South Wales, in February 1944, and found itself among a population that had rarely seen a black face before.

“The general consensus of opinion seems to be that the only American soldiers with decent manners are the Negroes.”

George Orwell

Another member of the 320th was Wilson Monk , who was billeted in the basement of the town’s Trinity Methodist church.

Here he met the organist Godfrey Prior, a milkman, who quickly invited him to join the congregation.

Wilson Monk (third from left) and other fellow GI's

Mr Prior’s wife Jessie took it on herself to provide Monk with the occasional home cooked meal and – with her 18-year-old boy Keith away on active service – came to look on him as a surrogate son.

In February 1944 she wrote a touching letter from her home in the village of Abersychan to Monk’s mother Rosita, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to reassure her about her son’s well-being.

Mrs Prior, who like most Britons outside of the port cities of Liverpool, Cardiff, London and Bristol, has never seen a black person before, told her:

“Mrs Monk, you have a son to treasure and feel very proud of. We have told him he can look upon our home as his home while in our country. We shall take every care of him . . . we will look upon him now as our own.”

File photo: Wilson Monk points to the names of his friends painted on the canister of a German gas mask he found in Normandy in 1944

A Padre’s tale: How an Army chaplain’s diary throws new light on the anniversary of D-Day

The arrival of 130,000 black troops in Britain – in many places they were the first Americans soldiers to arrive – had presented the British authorities with a dilemma.

Although Churchill’s war Cabinet objected to their presence, British officials rejected US Army requests that the men be formally segregated from the white population, fearing a negative reaction from voters over what would be regarded as a distinctly ‘un-British’ policy.

In this rare close-up of a 320th Barrage Balloon crew in action The VLA balloons flew up to 2,000 feet

At a time of rising nationalist sentiment across the British Empire they were also worried about alienating Commonwealth troops if they began to treat black soldiers as second class citizens.

But anticipating a backlash from white American troops, civil servants introduced a de-facto policy of separation, designed to encourage British civilians and soldiers not to fraternise with the black GIs.

However the wider British public were far more welcoming.

“Equitable treatment abroad helped fuel the budding civil rights movement that would rock America in the coming decades.”

Linda Hervieux, author of Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes

Black troops generally behaved more courteously and with more dignity than the brash white GIs, who openly mocked Britain’s old fashioned cars, bad food and even its poor plumbing – so much so that many Britons preferred them to their countrymen, who soon earned the sobriquet of “overpaid, overfed, oversexed and over here”.

British women noted that, in contrast to the white GIs, the black soldiers did not cat call them – something that back home could have seen them lynched.

George Orwell wrote in Tribune: “The general consensus of opinion seems to be that the only American soldiers with decent manners are the Negroes.”

‘What you did was beautiful’, Dutch famine survivors tell British airmen 70 years on

The presence of so many black troops on British soil had a lasting legacy in a country that was soon to see an influx of Afro-Caribbean migrants, starting with the arrival of the Windrush ship at Tilbury, in 1948.

320th men having fun in Hawaii with a their standard issue M-1 rifle

While most people have heard of the GI babies the US troops left behind, few have considered that many of these children were of mixed-race, the offspring of affairs between local white women and the black soldiers they encountered.

Many of those “brown babies” only came to know their fathers in later years, with some of their descendants now embarking on a search for their American grandfathers.

Miss Hervieux said: “Given the racial tensions that exist in Britain today, as in other countries, it is hard to believe that the UK was once a relative racial paradise for African Americans. Britons were willing to open their hearts and minds to fellow human beings who were there to help them.

She added: “Their efforts extended beyond mere hospitality. True and deep friendships developed, some of which endured long after the war. Although Britons suffered through vicious bombings that ravaged the country and extreme privation, they never forgot basic human kindness.”

The treatment the men received at the hands of ordinary British men and women also had a significant impact on post-war America, believes Mrs Hervieux.

“In Britain America’s black soldiers were welcomed and treated with respect and kindness. Once they returned home, there was no going back,” she said. “Equitable treatment abroad helped fuel the budding civil rights movement that would rock America in the coming decades.”

Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War, by Linda Hervieux, is published by Harper Collins.

World War Two

Boris Johnson: ‘Churchill wrote to keep the black dog of depression at bay’

October 11th, 2014

They were his Nibelungen, his elves, the tinkling dwarves in the smithy of Hephaestus. Or, to compare them with their modern equivalent, they were Winston Churchill’s personal search engine – his Google. When they needed more books, they would pad down the corridor to the library, with its 60,000 mainly leather-bound volumes. When he needed some fact or text, he would summon them, and up they would go – only one at any time. They would go into the study, and there they would find him in the act of composition.

One of the many reasons for feeling overawed by Churchill is that he could not only discharge his duties as a minister of the Crown by day. He would then have a slap-up dinner, with champagne, wine and brandy. Only then, at 10pm, refreshed and very jovial, would he begin to dictate. Wreathed in tobacco and alcohol – and perhaps wearing his monogrammed slippers and the peculiar mauve velvet siren suit made for him by Turnbull?&?Asser – he would walk the wooden floorboards and growl out his massively excogitated sentences.

Typists would struggle to keep up, but on he jawed, even into the small hours of the night, licking and champing his unlit cigar. Sometimes he would take them with him into his tiny and austere bedroom, and then while they blushed and squeaked he would disrobe and submerge himself in his sunken Shanks bath and continue to prose on, while they sat on the floor and pitter-pattered away on the specially muffled keyboards that he preferred.

The sheaves of typewritten paper he would then correct and amend by hand – and we have innumerable examples of his cursive blue-inked marginalia – and the results would be typeset as they would appear on the page; and even that was not the end.

He would fiddle with the text. He would switch clauses around for emphasis, he would swap one epithet for another and, in general, he would take the utmost delight in the process of polishing his efforts; and then he would send the whole lot off to be typeset again.

Churchill’s desk, with items including his spectacles, a cast of his mother’s hand and a bust of Napoleon.

It was a fantastically expensive method of working, and yet it enabled Churchill to produce not just more words than Dickens, or more words than Shakespeare – but more words than Dickens and Shakespeare combined. Go into so many respectable middle-class English homes, especially of the older generations, and you will see them there, bulking out the bookshelves next to the Encyclopaedia Britannica: The World Crisis; A History of the English-Speaking Peoples; The Second World War; Marlborough: His Life and Times, and many others – and then ask yourself which have actually been read.

There are some people, faced with this vast quantity of text, who may be tempted to dismiss or downplay the virtuosity of Churchill as a writer (a writer who won the Nobel Prize for literature, no less). Indeed, he has always had his detractors. Evelyn Waugh, that inveterate Churchill-basher, said he was a “master of sham-Augustan prose”, with “no specific literary talent but a gift of lucid self-expression”. After reading Churchill’s Life of his father Randolph, Waugh dismissed it as a “shifty barrister’s case, not a work of literature”.

Why did Evelyn Waugh sneer at Churchill’s writings? Is it that he was a bit jealous? I think so; and the reason was not just that Churchill had become so much more famous than Waugh had been, by the time he was 25, but that he had made stupendous sums from writing. And that, for most journalists, alas, is the truly sensitive point of comparison.

By 1900 he had not only written five books – some of which had been bestsellers – but also had become just about the highest-paid journalist in Britain. For his Boer War coverage he was paid £250 per month – the equivalent of £10,000 a month today. He was commissioned to write the Life of his father in 1903, and given a staggering payment of £8,000. To give you the scale of those riches, consider that there were then only a million people in the country who had the privilege of paying income tax, and that was because they earned £160 per year.

These publishers didn’t pay him this kind of money because they liked his blue eyes. They paid him handsomely because he was popular with the public, and helped boost circulation, and the reason he was popular was that he wrote so well, with a rich and rollicking readability. He was a superb reporter. Try this account from the Morning Post of April 1900. We take up the story as Churchill and his fellow mounted scouts are trying to beat the Boers to secure a kopje, a rocky outcrop in the South African plain:

It was from the very beginning a race, and recognised as such by both sides. As we converged I saw the five leading Boers, better mounted than their comrades, outpacing the others in a desperate resolve to secure the coign of vantage. I said, “We cannot do it”; but no one would admit defeat or leave the matter undecided. The rest is exceedingly simple.

We arrived at a wire fence 100 yards – to be accurate 120 yards – from the crest of the kopje, dismounted, and, cutting the wire, were about to seize the precious rocks when – as I had seen them in the railway cutting at Frere, grim, hairy and terrible – the heads and shoulders of a dozen Boers appeared; and how many more must be close behind them?

There was a queer, almost inexplicable, pause, or perhaps there was no pause at all; but I seem to remember much happening. First the Boers – one fellow with a long, drooping, black beard, and a chocolate-coloured coat, another with a red scarf round his neck. Two scouts cutting the wire fence stupidly. One man taking aim across his horse, and McNeill’s voice, quite steady: “Too late; back to the other kopje. Gallop!”

Then the musketry crashed out, and the “swish” and “whirr” of the bullets filled the air. I put my foot in the stirrup. The horse, terrified at the firing, plunged wildly. I tried to spring into the saddle; it turned under the animal’s belly. He broke away, and galloped madly off. Most of the scouts were already 200 yards off. I was alone, dismounted, within the closest range, and a mile at least from cover of any kind.

One consolation I had – my pistol. I could not be hunted down unarmed in the open as I had been before. But a disabling wound was the brightest prospect. I turned, and, for the second time in this war, ran for my life on foot from the Boer marksmen, and I thought to myself, “Here at last I take it.” Suddenly, as I ran, I saw a scout. He came from the left, across my front; a tall man, with skull and crossbones badge, and on a pale horse. Death in Revelation, but life to me.

I shouted to him as he passed: “Give me a stirrup.” To my surprise he stopped at once. “Yes,” he said, shortly. I ran up to him, did not bungle in the business of mounting, and in a moment found myself behind him on the saddle […] Judging from the number of bullets I heard I did not expect to be hit after the first 500 yards were covered, for a galloping horse is a difficult target, and the Boers were breathless and excited. But it was with a feeling of relief that I turned the corner of the further kopje and found I had thrown double sixes again.

Churchill could do action reporting better than many of the greatest modern exponents, but he could do the meditative passages as well: the evils of Islamic fundamentalism; the horrors of war. Sometimes he was angry – and angry at his own side.

His description of the aftermath of Omdurman, where he made that famous charge, is one that lives in the eye and in the nostrils: the machine-gunned corpses lying three deep, men still living but already putrefying.

It has long been a theme of imperial writing – since the ancient Romans – to dwell tearfully on the sufferings of the subject peoples, and thereby to intensify the triumph of the conquering race. But Churchill takes it a stage further, actively bashing the British authorities and their bland assurances. “The statement that ‘the wounded dervishes received every delicacy and attention’ is so utterly devoid of truth that it passes into the realms of the ridiculous,” he wrote.

He publicly abuses Kitchener for his conduct of the war. He slates him for desecrating the tomb of the Mahdi, and for keeping his head as a trophy, allegedly in a tin of kerosene. Churchill’s criticism was justified, but it was outrageous and hubristic.

Kitchener was not some has-been; he was his Commander-in-Chief and would go on to command British forces in the First World War. Yet here he was – being rubbished by some jumped-up young officer in his own army. Churchill infuriated the generals because he was using his military status to get into the action – and then slagging them off. Thus he passed the first and most important test of a journalist. He put the reader first.

I say: stuff his snobbish detractors. When did Evelyn Waugh write a dispatch that was half as good as Churchill’s reports from Malakand or Sudan? The reason Churchill has lasted, and the reason his phrases are still on people’s lips, is that he could deploy so many styles: not just the pseudo-Gibbonian periods, but Anglo-Saxon pith.

Some chicken, some neck. Fight them on the beaches. Blood, toil, tears and sweat. Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.

The phrases for which he is remembered are masterpieces of compression. He loved new words as much as he loved new machines. He was one of the great linguistic innovators of recent times. When world leaders meet to discuss a crisis they might have a “summit” at which they discuss the “Middle East” or possibly the risk that Russia will create a new “iron curtain”. All three are neologisms either invented or championed by Churchill. Sometimes he could be Gibbonian; sometimes he was more of a funky Gibbon; but he was always fertile, and he was fast.

Unlike any other young hussar, he could ensure that there was a long and gripping account of his bravery, because he would supply it. And like his father, he could use his facility with words to deal with a financial position that was almost always precarious.

The Churchills were not poor. That description would be absurd. But as ducal families go, they hadn’t much ready income – the fortune being more or less tied up in Blenheim. In spite of her long list of male admirers (her conquests have been reckoned to number 200, though Roy Jenkins thinks this number “suspiciously round”), his mother, Jennie, was not especially good at converting their attentions into cash; and at one stage Churchill was forced to take legal action against his mother to stop her squandering his – and his brother Jack’s – inheritance.

Sure, his income from writing was vast by the standards of the day. But his outgoings were epic.

The bill from his wine merchant alone was three times the earnings of a male manual worker of the time. He had to pay for the upkeep of Chartwell, whose comforts included a Neronian circular outdoor pool that he kept heated, all year round, to a temperature of 75 degrees – a feat that necessitated a coke-fuelled boiler on the same scale as that of the House of Commons.

Sometimes, he was driven to all kinds of hack work, just to pay the bills. At one stage the News of the World commissioned him to condense and rehash a series of classic novels, under the title Great Stories of the World Retold.

It was not, as he himself confessed, an “artistic” success. But what the hell: he was paid £333 per piece; or rather, he was paid £333, while his long-suffering secretary Eddie Marsh, who really did them, was paid £25. And then there were the awful depredations of the taxman – and here the scholarship of Peter Clarke has unearthed some spectacular manoeuvres.

As he was perfectly entitled to do, Churchill believed in keeping up the writing even when he was a minister of the Crown. He kept working on A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, for instance, even when he had become Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924. But he none the less decided (or some brilliant accountant decided) that for tax purposes he had ceased, at the moment of putting on his father’s Chancellor’s robes, to be an “author”, and that the huge payments he was receiving, totalling £20,000, should be classified not as income but as “capital gains”.

That had the preposterous result that he didn’t pay a penny of tax. Pol Roger all round!

No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money, he would often say, quoting Dr Johnson; but, of course, in his case that was far from true. He also wrote because his temperament demanded it.

His creative-depressive personality meant that writing (or painting, or bricklaying) was a way of keeping the “black dog” of depression at bay. He wrote for that sensation of release that comes with laying 200 bricks and writing 2,000 words a day.

Above all, he wrote his journalism, history and biography because for Winston Churchill writing was – to adapt Clausewitz on war – the continuation of politics by other means. These torrential literary efforts were his most potent weapons in his campaigns, whether against Indian independence or against complacency about Hitler.

By the time he came into Downing Street in May 1940, he had written and read so much history as to have a unique understanding of events, to see them in context, and to see what England must do.

There are two final ways in which his literary exertions made Churchill the only man for 1940. There is something orchestral about Churchill’s ability to deploy and coordinate his material: switching from Holland to Paris to London and to the Seven Seas. He knew instinctively which subject needed attention and when, while driving the central narrative along. Which was more or less how he ran the war.

Finally, let us go back to that figure in the study in Chartwell, pacing up and down and dictating to Mrs Pearman or Eddie Marsh. It takes prodigious mental effort to assemble the right words in your head, and then ensure that they are loaded on to the conveyor belt of the tongue so as to emerge in an order fit for printing.

Surely it was that endlessly repeated oral discipline which improved him not just as a writer but as a speaker. We may not read enough of his books today, but his speeches galvanised the nation.

The Churchill Factor by Boris Johnson (Hodder & Stoughton, rrp £25) is available at £20 + £1.95 p&p from Telegraph Books on 0844 871 1514 or at Text © Boris Johnson 2014.

Boris Johnson will be taking part in a Q&A with Gaby Wood on October 23 at Imperial College London. Tickets are £40 (including a signed copy of The Churchill Factor) and are available from

World War Two

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Vanished WW2 plane found in Black Sea

April 22nd, 2014

Objects found on board include uniform (a cap, briefcase, boots and a perfectly preserved belt with a silver buckle bearing Nazi insignia) and personal items including a shaving brush, toothpaste and toothbrush, torch and thermos flask.

The plane was also carrying official documents – Nazi maps sealed in foil to protect them from fire.

It is speculated that the weather turned bad during the crossing, and that pilot Leutnant Horst Ringel, crippled by poor visibility, directed his plane off course and crash-landed in the Black Sea.

Underwater photographer, Andrey Nekrasov, 42, was in the team of divers which found the wreckage (Medavia)

Records show the plane had been carrying 9 passengers, including observer Oberstleutnant Baron Axel Freiherr von Jena and signaller Karl Kroch, whose name was found on the remains of a sword belt recovered from the wreck.

Mr Nekrasov said: ”There were no records of a crashed plane of this type in this area.

”The wreckage was very deep down so visibility was poor. We could only see three metres in front of us at any time.

”We have tried to recreate the whole picture of the events using just a couple of artefacts which were 70 years old and found at the bottom of the sea.

”A plane on the seabed always looks very strange. It turned out the story behind this one was even stranger.”

World War Two

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