Posts Tagged ‘soldiers’

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.”

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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

Japan searches for Second World War soldiers’ remains in sealed caves of Palau

March 29th, 2015

A team of experts took five days last week to clear their way into just one small cave with a 7ft opening.

Archaeologists found a set of bones which are believed to be human and will be taken back to Japan for testing.

“They found some bones while they were clearing the entrance of the cave,” Bernadette Carreon, a local journalist, told ABC Radio. “They did not use heavy equipment because they have to make it clear of heavy ordnance. When it’s clear, the archaeologists can go in and start bone collection.”


Marines smoke cigarettes, but keep their weapons close in a blasted landscape of Peleliu Island, Palau during WWII

The attempt to find the bodies has been welcomed in Japan and is part of an effort to end a brutal chapter from the war, in which US marines were pitted against Japanese troops who had set up their defences in the intricate labyrinth of heavily fortified caves and underground bunkers. It is still regarded as one of the harshest conflicts in the history of the marines.

Unlike previous battles in the Pacific, the Japanese did not focus their defence on using suicide charges to prevent the Americans from establishing a beachhead.

Instead, the Japanese forces largely allowed the marines to land but staged their defence from inside the caves.

The Japanese, who had occupied Palau for about 30 years, had spent decades using dynamite and axes to enlarge existing caves on Peleliu and blast out new ones. The caves and their entrances were then heavily camouflaged.

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The US forces expected the battle in September 1944 to last only four or five days. “It will be a hard-fought quickie,” predicted William Rupertus, the US marine commander. It took more than 10 weeks.

More than 1,600 US soldiers were killed during the battle, which ended with the marines blowing up many of the caves, leaving thousands of the enemy trapped inside. Shortly before the Americans finally seized the small island in late November, Col Kunio Nakagawa, the Japanese commander, atoned for his defeat by committing ritual suicide in his post.

About 35 Japanese soldiers remained hiding in the caves until April 1947, more than 18 months after the war officially ended. They were the last troops to surrender.

Keiji Nagai, 93, and Kiyokazu Tsuchida, 95, two of the 35 soldiers who surrendered in 1947, met the Japanese emperor and empress earlier this month to provide an account of the hand-to-hand combat they experienced during the battle. The empress quietly told Mr Nagai: “You went through a lot.”

Authorities began collecting the remains at various locations around the island in 1953, but Japanese authorities say 2,600 soldiers have yet to be found. The bodies are believed to be holed up inside about 200 caves which were deemed dangerous and left sealed to prevent public access. About 450 Japanese soldiers survived the battle and later helped to direct the authorities to the site of graves.


The island of Peleliu (Alamy)

The entire island has become something of a monument to the battle, with unexploded bombs a constant threat to residents and tourists. Following the war, Japan created a peace park which included a Shinto shrine with the inscription “To all countries’ unknown soldiers”.

Officials in Palau have worked closely with Japan to try to recover the remaining bodies and return them to the families of the soldiers. Some representatives of the families of the Japanese soldiers have assisted with the search.

Sachio Kageyama, from a group representing families and fellow soldiers of those who fought on the island, told The Japan Times: “I hope the forthcoming visit by the emperor will pave the way for [further] collection of remains.”

Palau, a remote cluster of islands east of the Philippines with a population of about 21,000, was the scene of heavy fighting during the war. The fierce battle at Peleliu was over an airfield now deemed of questionable strategic value by most historians.

The search for the bodies has also focused on a long-lost mass grave on the western side of the island, close to where the current cave search is being conducted.

US military documents indicating the cemetery’s location were found two years ago at a naval museum in California. The documents included a map created in January 1945 which says “Japanese cemetery” and points to the centre of the island. A separate report from a construction battalion says that logs were placed on the site to prevent people disturbing the graves. US officials reportedly told Palau in 1994 that a mass grave was located near Nakagawa’s grave.

US experts have also been searching Palau’s coral reefs, lagoons and islands for planes that were lost in the conflict. Last year, underwater robots were used to find two warplanes on the ocean floor.


World War Two

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Leaders’ snub of Moscow victory parade ‘insult to soldiers’, says Russia

March 24th, 2015

Veterans during the 60th anniversary parade through Red Square in 2005 (Getty Images)

Downing Street announced earlier this month that Mr Cameron would not go to Moscow.

A spokesman for David Cameron said at the time: “We will be considering our representation in light of our ongoing discussions with Russia, and our concerns about their activity. We don’t have plans for the Prime Minister to attend, and I’m sure we will set out who will represent the government in due course.”

He and other European leaders are thought to be boycotting the event in protest at Russia’s alleged aggression in Ukraine. Barack Obama, the US president, has also refused to go, citing a tight schedule.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said last week that he had received an invitation but would not attend because his “presence at a military parade beside the current aggressors and the person who uses weapons against civilians eastern in Ukraine would be, for me to put it mildly, too ambiguous”.

Ironically, Mr Chizhov’s scolding of EU leaders was uttered as Russian authorities said they would be taking measures to intercept any of their own Second World War veterans who tried to get on to Red Square on May 9 without being officially invited to the ceremonies.

The Kommersant newspaper said that only one veteran and a companion from each Russian region would be allowed on to the tribune.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will attend an event a day later (AFP)

Veterans who turn up in Moscow without invitations to the parade will be able to take part in other events to mark the occasion and will be helped to find cheap accommodation, city officials said.

Milos Zeman, the Czech president, is thought to be the only EU leader who has so far confirmed he will be at the May 9 parade.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minster, said last week that 26 world leaders had confirmed their attendance. Among them are leaders from China, India, Cuba and North Korea.

Last week, Mr Putin said that May 9 was a “day of glory, a day of pride for our entire nation, a day of supreme veneration of the victorious generation”.

The president said there were now “attempts at distorting the events of that war”, some of them “downright ravings”, in order “to undermine Russia’s power and moral authority”. He did not give details.

German forces surrendered to the Allies on May 7, 1945, with all hostilities scheduled to cease at 23.01 Central European Time the next day. That was already the early hours of May 9 to the east in Moscow, which marks Victory Day on that date, rather than the May 8 V-E Day celebrated in the US, Britain and other parts of Europe.


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Allied soldiers ‘raped hundreds of thousands of German women’ after WW2

March 6th, 2015

“The saddest event during the advance were three rapes, one on a married woman, one on a single woman and one on a spotless girl of 16-and-a-half. They were committed by heavily drunk Americans,” wrote one of the priests, Fr Andreas Weingand, in July 1945.

She said she had also studied the records of “war children”, the illegitimate children born to German mothers and Allied fathers, and assumed that there had been 100 rapes for each birth, coming up with a figure of 190,000 rapes by American soldiers alone.

But Antony Beevor, the author of The Second World War, said Prof Gerhardt’s methodology was “ludicrous”.

“It’s almost impossible to come up with figures, but I think to say there were hundreds of thousands is a great exaggeration,” he said.

“If she’s doing it on the basis of illegitimate children that’s ludicrous,” Prof Beevor said. “There was a huge amount of voluntary sex. There were vast numbers of cases of genuine fraternisation. Many young women were hanging around outside the gates of American camps.” The most notorious instances of rape by Western Allied forces were by French troops during the sack of Stuttgart.

Of the Allies, British troops appear to have been responsible for the least rapes.

“Not because of any morality or respect for woman, but because the NCOs wouldn’t allow the soldiers to go off on their own,” Prof Beevor said.

He added that Soviet archives had confirmed that around two million German women had been raped by Soviet soldiers, while Prof Gerdhardt put the figure at 500,000.


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