Saturday, 3 November 2012

Over here

I went right off Fergal Keane when he wrote a highly personal and private letter to his new-born baby son, then went on BBC national radio to read it out loud to the hardened and embittered women of an entire nation, in his charming, soft Irish accent - a full 8 years before his son would have the opportunity of reading it himself.

By shamelessly pressing the emotion/pathos button, he got such a huge - if predictable - positive result, that he is now known as the 'sensitive lad' amongst war-correspondents, and he has been pressing it over and over again ever since.

Well he taught me a lesson, which is why I am usually a little loathe to post too many of what Donna describes as 'soft' ones, without interspersing a liberal sprinkling of fat ladies' backsides painted up like pumpkins, just to put the edge back on it every now and then.

Anyway, enough of him - what about ME, I hear you ask?

I lay in bed this morning listening to the radio, and heard a small account of the arrival of American G.I.s to this little island, after we had finally got them to come over and give us a hand during WW2.

For some reason, this made me want to hide away in our compact but adorable city apartment and watch one or two of the many black and white, British films I have which were made around 1943, purely in order to put the Yanks in the right state of mind to share a railway carriage with a load of unfriendly and taciturn locals who - outwardly - seemed to be positively resentful of their presence.

Of course, all the old stuff about the G.I.s ravishing our village girls having enticed them back to camp with stockings, cigarettes, chewing-gum and lots of hard cash came up, but toward the end, the plight of the black G.I.s took precedence, and that was truly depressing.

Where I live in the West Country - and further west - contained the highest concentration of 'coloured' soldiers - around 100,000. When you remember that the entire population of G.B. contained only 7000 black people prior to U.S. involvement in the war, you begin to understand the impact that so many black faces had on the rural communities which housed them.

It seems that - for us Brits - these dark-skinned men were simply novelties, and welcome ones at that. There were many accounts of elderly and youthful villagers coming up to them, and innocently rubbing their faces to see if the brown would come off on their hands. You would not go up to an armed soldier and do that if you were scared of him, and - by all accounts - the G.I.s took it in good spirit, even laughing about it.

The trouble was that their Southern, white compatriots brought their prejudices over with them, and there were quite a few accounts of beatings and murder amongst the U.S. troops - all swept under the carpet by the propaganda machine.

Here in 1940s Bath, a black G.I. formed a relationship with a white woman on the outskirts of the city (Combe Down), and it seemed that this woman - who lived on her own - had formed similar relationships with many of the locals before the war, earning her the reputation of being something of a 'loose woman', long before the G.I.s turned up.

The U.S. military police got to hear of it, and arrested the soldier on a charge of rape, then court-marshalled him and sent him back to the USA to be executed in an electric chair, or by firing-squad.

The villagers of Combe Down were horrified at the turn of events, and lobbied for his acquittal and release, citing the woman as a part-time prostitute in his defence, but the U.S. military would not hear of it, and kept him on Death Row.

In a supreme effort of civic solidarity, the villagers finally wrote a formal letter to the President of the United States of America, and the President ordered his release from jail. He was saved, but he was never pardoned.

Good old Combe-Downers!


  1. I believe that during the war in London, there were Black dance nights, and White dance nights. The US white soldiers wouldn't lower themselves to occupy the same dance floor as the US black soldiers. Disgraceful that they were allowed to import their shameful racism.

    1. Yes - different days in town for different colours. The whites got Saturday nights.

  2. My goodness me, Tom - such goings on make the comings and goings in our neck of the woods seem very small fry.