Posts Tagged ‘Britons’

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

Rationing in World War 2 increased intelligence of Britons

October 30th, 2014

Previous studies have suggested that the nation’s IQ rises by around three to four points per decade, a phenomenon known as the ‘Flynn Effect’, driven by increased prosperity, nutrition, hygiene and safety.

But researchers were astonished that the jump was so pronounced between the 1920s and 1930s.

“When you consider the life experiences of the two groups, those born in 1921 experienced the depression as teenagers and then World War Two,” said lead researcher Dr Roger Staff.

“Those born in 1936 were children during the war and experienced food rationing. Although rationing meant that the food was not particularly appetising it was nutritious and probably superior to the older group. In addition, post war political changes such as the introduction of the welfare state and a greater emphasis on education probably ensured better health and greater opportunities.

“Finally, in their thirties and forties the 1936 group experienced the oil boom which brought them and the city prosperity. Taken together, good nutrition, education and occupational opportunities have resulted in this life long improvement in their intelligence.”

The University of Aberdeen team examined two groups of people raised in Aberdeen, one born in 1921 and one born in 1936. These people are known as the Aberdeen Birth Cohort and were tested when they were aged 11 and when they were adults after the age of 62. The study consisted of 751 people all tested aged 11 and who were retested between 1998 and 2011 on up to five occasions.

Researchers compared the two groups at age 11 found an increase in IQ of 3.7 points which was marginally below what was expected but within the range seen in other studies. However, comparison in late life found an increase in IQ of 16.5 points which is over three times what was expected.

Professor James Flynn, who discovered the Flynn effect said; “The study is very interesting. It should raise our estimates of British adult gains in intelligence.”

Before the war, more than two thirds of British food was imported. But enemy ships targeting merchant vessels prevented fruit, sugar, cereals and meat from reaching the UK.

The Ministry of Food issued ration books and rationing for bacon, butter and sugar began in January 1940.

One person’s typical weekly allowance would be: one fresh egg; 4oz margarine and bacon (about four rashers); 2oz butter and tea; 1oz cheese; and 8oz sugar.

But it was the MoF’s Dig For Victory campaign, encouraging self-sufficiency, which really changed how Britain ate. Allotment numbers rose from 815,000 to 1.4 million.

Pigs, chickens and rabbits were reared domestically for meat, whilst vegetables were grown anywhere that could be cultivated. By 1940 wasting food was a criminal offence.

As sugar was in short supply, sweets were rationed from July 1942 to February 1953.

It is known that despite the stress of the war, the health of the lower classes improved as they were encouraged to eat vegetables, beans and fruit. Access to cigarettes and alcohol was limited.

“These IQ gains are probably not unique to Aberdeen with similar with similar environmental changes being experienced across the UK,” Dr Staff added.

The research was published in the journal Intelligence.


World War Two

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One in five Britons thinks the country fought Hitler in World War I

June 27th, 2014

More than half (57%) knew that Britain became involved in the First World War because of a treaty with Belgium to defend it in the event of an invasion.

Knowledge of the country’s leadership was sketchy, with one in ten believing Winston Churchill was Prime Minister at the start of the conflict.

Only 36% correctly answered that the prime minister was Herbert Henry Asquith, while 34% guessed it was David Lloyd George, whose premiership started during the war.

Areas in which respondents were most knowledgeable were when the First World War took place (90%), what the term The Allies refers to (92%), and the fact that British and German soldiers once marked Christmas Day by playing a game of football (85%).

However, 1% of those polled believed the troops gave each other tours of their trenches, while eight people surveyed believed they gathered to watch a screening of the Great Escape.

People in the East Midlands are the most knowledgeable about the war, according to the research, getting an overall 70% of correct answers. Londoners were found to know the least, with only 63% of right responses.

Those from Scotland (68%) were slightly more successful than respondents from England (66%) and Wales (64%).

People aged 55 and over were the most knowledgeable, with 72% of correct answers, while more men than women answered correctly to each of the nine factual questions they were asked

The research also found that only one in 10 people believed the First World War is the most important British history subject for children to learn about at school, ranking behind topics such as the Second World War, the history of the monarchy and the Magna Carta.

The Times WWI Centenary Facsimile research also revealed a gender divide in First World War knowledge, as more men than women knew the correct answer for each of the nine factual questions they were asked (72% of correct answers compared to 60%).

Rose Wild, archive editor of The Times, said: ”These results demonstrate that although many people are aware of some basic facts about WWI, there is much more to be learnt.”


World War Two

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