Divided by Race: United in War and Peace
DVD Colour Sound 2013 90:00
Summary: Documentary recounting the little-known history of black servicemen, particularly in WWII, and how they were treated in Britain during the war and afterwards when they were out of uniform, including the racism they experienced. It captures the personal testimonies of 14 former military personnel (black and white).
Title number: 21044
LSA ID: LSA/27618
Description: Relevant footage of war, war-time England, the Caribbean and black servicemen throughout.
8’ War veteran, Peter Kempson, surrounded by Royal British Legion poppy boxes, talks about how the French and Italians let us down (during the war) so he doesn’t understand why African nations wanted to be part of it (the war?). Footage of some Caribbean and South American flags within poppy wreaths.
31’ Footage of flags: Canadian, Jamaican, Guyanese and Union Jack. 43’ Footage of Nazi march with commentary about Nazi movements throughout Europe in 1939/40 and Britain’s need to oppose them. 1’05” Footage of Hitler, Nazi soldiers, ships and planes. Commentary talks about Nazi blockades in the Atlantic and the Luftwaffe coming to bomb Britain. Black and White footage of post-bombing London scenes.
1’48” Commentary states that thousands of people were killed, cities and industries devastated and the country lived in fear. So Britain was forced to look overseas to the colonies for help. Map showing countries that were British colonies, concentrating on the Caribbean. 2’22” States that the before the war the British West Indies were ruled by a white colonial administration which largely excluded the black population.
2’38” Footage and contribution from Tony Warner, historian (at the Imperial War Museum?). He states that times were hard in the Caribbean before the war with rioting because food was expensive and jobs were scarce unless you were a colonial (black and white footage of people in the Caribbean).
3’04” Footage of elderly couple, Ivy Chen (and her husband?)walking down a street. Ivy states how hard it was in Jamaica during the war as a lot of things were not available. 3’28” War veteran, Laurent Phillpotts, says there was a lot of conflict and a class distinction (continued black and white footage of people and life in the Caribbean).
4’ War veteran, Allan Wilmot, states that in Jamaica the Europeans were in charge under the colonial system, then there were upper-class and middle–class Jamaicans and then ordinary people. 4’23” Photograph of Flight Lieutenant Cy Grant. His widow Dorit Grant and daughter Sami Moxon talk about Cy’s privileged childhood and family.
4’52” Historian, Stephen Bourne, talks about unrest in Jamaica before the war. 5’03” Laurent Phillpotts talks of how the white colonials had to be approached to change anything. Tony Warner states that England revered in the Caribbean, people were taught an English curriculum and saw England as their mother country. 5’39” Woman’s voice talking about somebody being proud of their black roots and being angry that they weren’t taught black history.
6” Narrator states that until the war, England was not a multi-cultural society like today (footage of pre-war England). 6’10” War veteran David Fellowes talks of idyllic English childhood. 6’41” War veterans, Leslie Rice and Ron Crowder. Ron Crowder talks about coming from Peckham. David Fellowes describes how everything was very English at that time. Peter Kempson talks about living, going to school and working in Dulwich for 91 years. 7’32” War veteran Harold Lyons talks a about meeting a few coloured people in that era but not many. David Fellowes talks about seeing only two coloured people growing up (not politically correct in how he talks about them). Says things were very stable, people didn’t move about, things were good.
8’59” 1939 Recording of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announcing Britain at war with Germany. Footage of soldiers. Appeals made to the west Indies and African colonies for people to join the war effort (footage of posters used to do this). 9’22” War veteran Neil Flanigan MBE talks about Churchill advertising in Jamaican Gleaner newspaper in 1943 asking for people to join the Royal Airforce in Jamaica, he joined and within a couple of days was on a ship to England.More than 16,000 people from the Caribbean signed up.
10’20” War veteran Sam King MBE talks about volunteering at 18 and that this was a good thing in order to stop the Germans. 10’52” Dorit Grant and Sami Moxon talk about joining up being a way out of Guyana. 11’08” War veteran Alvin Chy-Quene says his parents didn’t know he was in the air force until he left. 11’18” Allan Wilmot talks about his father being the first black skipper of the inter-island cargo ship.
11’49” War veteran, Noel Davies, talks about joining the West African Air Corps and how people were recruited to be pilots and engineers. Alvin Chy-Quene talks about joining up.
13’ Peter Kempson talks about being called up in 1941. Harold Lyons said some people wanted to join up because conditions better than at home. Leslie Rice said he joined up because his friends in the army said what a good life it was. Harold Lyons talks about his brother in the air force dying about 10 weeks before the end of the European war (photo of Ilbert William John Lyons in uniform) just before Harold Lyons was conscripted into the army. 15’02” Peter Kempson states he couldn’t have been a conscientious objector.
15’24” Stephen Bourne talks about how harsh it was for recruits from the West Indies because it was cold and they weren’t prepared for this. 15’44” Narrator continues with this theme. 16’ Ines Taylor talks about being very cold and wanting to go back to the sun. she expected everyone in England to be rich. England thought of like heaven but this is not what she found. Neil Flanigan talks about never having seen snow before. Stephen Bourne explains that Jamaican air force recruit, Dudley Thompson, had described being able to go into any library and there being no colour bar in the UK. Allan Wilmot states that people couldn’t understand black people being in the RAF.
17’43” Noel Davies talks about noticing the washing hanging outside like in Africa when he first arrived. He felt people were just like ‘us’ and were friendly. 18’02” Alvin Chy-Quene talks about seeing ‘crude’ looking white people with tattoos when he was used to white people being respectable administrative people. 18’25” Narrator states that within the services most black volunteers were warmly welcomed even though people could be ignorant about different races. 18’34” Allan Wilmot states that when the war was on, black servicemen were gladly accepted as they were helping England in its hour of need.
18’46” Clip of ‘West Indies Calling’ a British propaganda film about black recruits.
19’05” Noel Davies shows pictures of him in the air force. Allan Wilmot explains how he joined the navy in 1941 and transferred to the RAF air-sea rescue service in 1943. He states how German U Boats were active in the Caribbean and were sinking cargo ships. 20’02” Sam King MBE explains how he was sent to RAF Filey and after 2 months training became an aircraft engineer. Photograph of black servicemen. Allan Wilmot says it was hard for black people to be promoted because the British services didn’t want black people in charge. He said he accepted the situation because there was no one to complain to and he was too young to be politically aware.
21’36” Photo of Squadron Leader Ulric Cross. Stephen Bourne says that Ulric Cross was highly decorated and was a hero and did manage to get a promotion in the RAF but was from a very educated middle-class background. Harold Lyons says there was a lot of people from the West Indies in the air force but not so many in the army as it was the least desirable of the forces.
22’19” Footage of Churchill. Stephen Bourne states that Churchill was an inspiring leader during the war but that some black recruits were aware that he wasn’t 100% behind them and that he didn’t want the Caribbean to be decolonised after the war. 23’33” Further clip of ‘West Indies Calling’ talking about how West Indians have come over to help us. Bourne explains the camaraderie between servicemen of different races in life-threatening situations.
25’13” Many black volunteers were not in active service but were ground crew in the RAF. Neil Flanigan explains that fear faded because you were trained and had support. 25’45” Allan Wilmott talks about everyone cooperating in the navy, like brothers, because survival depended on it. Neil Davies says he expected everyone to speak the Queen’s English as they were taught in Sierra Leone but in reality there were many different accents. 27’06” Alvin Chy-Quene talks about English people not being able to understand when Jamaicans spoke patois to each other. Neil Flanigan says that the biggest problems for West Indians were with white Americans. Allan Wilmot says that they brought racism over with them and that black Americans were treated awfully. Stephen Bourne says that there was some resistance against the Americans as they were practising the same sort of fascism in their treatment of black people as the Nazis were and that was what they were fighting against. 28’39” Allan Wilmot explains that black Americans were treated very badly by white Americans but that they were generally supported by the British. Stephen Bourne reiterates this.
31’15” Racism was still part of British institutions. Footage from ‘Cricketing Heroes and West Indian Independence’ of Trinidadian cricketer Learie Constantine. Constantine was working as a welfare office for the British government but he and his family were barred from going into the Hotel Imperial in Russell Square because it was a policy not to allow black people because white American servicemen were staying there. Constantine took it to court and won. 32’17” Alvin Chy-Quene says many British people knew nothing about West Indians and even some senior people thought they lived in trees. Allan Wilmot says the same.
33’41” The war was very tough both physically and mentally for many servicemen and women. David Fellowes talks about knowing that many people had been killed. Peter Kempson recalls having to go across a minefield to retrieve a Bren carrier and experiencing the smell of death for the first time. Allan Wilmot talks about air-sea rescue saving 18,000 lives during the war. Ivy Chen talks about how frightening it was when the search lights and sirens came on. 35’32” Sami Moxon describes how her father, Cy Grant, had his plane blown up whilst flying over Holland but he managed to eject and was put into a prisoner of war camp. 36’02 Alvin Chy-Quene talks about meeting Ulric Cross and the fact that he bombed Germany over 80 times. 36’38”Footage from ‘Battle of Arnhem’ Holland 1944. Peter Kempson explains how he saw people at Arnhem being shot by the Germans as they jumped out of gliders. Neil Flanigan talks about German forces waiting for the British in Holland and massacring them. Peter Kempson says that seeing other soldiers scared made him scared. David Fellowes describes how cold it could get in the airplanes while searching the sky for the enemy.
38’47” Discussion about leave. Stephen Bourne says there was no difference between what the black and white servicemen did during leave. Photo of Dr Harold Moody. Bourne says that Moody and his League of Coloured Peoples organised days for coloured workers from factories and in the services. Neil Flanigan says that life could be tough if you married a white woman as you could be attacked because of racism. Sam King talks about nearly marrying a woman from Nottingham.40’40” Marion Phillpotts talks about how you could still have a good time during war time and how nice the Jamaicans were. Talks about a place in Nottingham where she would go to dance and where she met Laurent Phillpotts. She talks about how well matched they were.
41’42” Footage of newspaper reports from May 1945 announcing the end of the war. Servicemen and women found themselves in the “limbo of demobilisation”. 41’55” Rev. Marcia Dacosta talks about her father being in Trafalgar Square on Armistice Day. He said everyone was rejoicing and were so grateful to the commonwealth soldiers for coming here that they were stuffing their pockets with money (photo of Lloyd George Rainford).
42’24” Peter Kempson explains that he carried on doing what he did before the war when he came back after five and a half years in service.
43’09” Stephen Bourne says that after the war, women were supposed to ‘go back to the kitchen’ and black recruits to return to their countries of origin. Footage of people in the colonies. Narrator states life in the colonies often as difficult as before the war. 43’31” Allan Wilmot went back to Jamaica in 1946 but there was no rehabilitation. Bourne states the British public wanted things to return to a pre-war state which didn’t include black people or women who had been in the forces. Wilmot says he thought he would have a better chance in the UK which was being rebuilt.
44’42” Britain asked for people from the West Indies to help rebuild the nation and in 1948 the Empire Windrush brought nearly 500 people from the Caribbean to the UK in 1948 (footage). 45’07” Footage of Lambeth Mayor Councillor White states the only ‘answer’ was to redevelop the West Indies. 45’20” Ex-soldier Vince McBean says his parents came to England from the Caribbean because England wanted help. That people were very loyal and wanted to help and that many had the intention of returning after five or 10 years but many stayed. Ines Taylor reiterates this. Lots of black and white footage of post-war England. Stephen Bourne says the people arriving on the Windrush were wanted for lower paid jobs the English didn’t want.
46’42” Contributors talk about the contributions the people from the Caribbean made and the lack of thanks received by the government. They talk about how they were treated by the English and the fact that they were sometimes more qualified than the English. Stephen Bourne says that the settlers coming to England in the 1950’s were not welcomed and what they had done for the country during the war was not remembered. Peter Kempson says he thinks too many people were let in because there’s not enough housing or work. 49’30” Sam King talks for seeing a sign saying ‘No Irish, no Blacks, no dogs’ when looking for lodging and how hurtful that was but that it was a blessing because it meant people bought property instead.
50’12” Far right groups exploited the racial tensions. Contributors talk about their thoughts on Oswald Mosely and the British union of Fascists who adopted Nazi symbolism. People who had been regarded as ‘war heroes’ were now regarded as ‘immigrants’. Footage of Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech 20/4/1968 and his general election speech in 1970. Contributors talk about the atmosphere at the time. There would sometimes be violence because of the tensions. 53’05” News Clip about racial riots in Notting Hill in 1958. Tony Warner states that after routine racist attacks against black people, black people, including war veterans, started to fight back.
54’13” Footage of right-wing marches and anti-immigrant attitudes. Contributors talk about the tensions and resentment which built against black people. Talk about their experiences. 56’08 clip of Jeremy Paxman talking to Nick Griffin of the British National Party in 2010 about what makes a ’British’ person. 57’11” Ex-paratrooper Irwin Eversley talks about how people are persuaded to have racist feelings. David Cameron talking about multiculturalism in 2011.
58’55” Sam King talks about becoming mayor of Southwark in 1983 (‘by accident’). From being an activist in the community he was persuaded to be a councillor and after about 6 months he said they were going to make him the mayor the following year. The National Front threatened to slit his throat and burn down his house if he became mayor. He said his reply was ‘I’m a Christian. I’m not against them slitting my throat but they should not burn down my house because it’s a council house’. He talks about how the newspapers supported him.
1h 6” Ex-Soldier Cpt. Paul Chambers talks about training to be an officer at Sandhurst. Talks about overseas cadets at Sandhurst. Says he felt he was treated as an equal there. Contributors talk about what it was like to be in the services and to fight in a conflict. Irwin Eversley talks about having to apply for citizenship after Barbados became independent even though he had fought for England in the Falklands war. Says he sold his medals to pay for citizenship. Vince McBean talks about having to be naturalised after fighting for the country.
1h7’17” Narrator talks about the personal qualities of the first Windrush arrivals and what they brought to British culture. Contributors talk about this. Allan Wilmot talks about being in a singing group, The Southlanders’ (old clip of them singing). Dorit Grant and Sami Moxon talk about Cy Grant and his singing and acting (clip from Tonight programme in 1959). They talk about how he described himself as an angry black man who had suffered prejudice in England. 1h11’11” Marion Phillpotts describes how attitudes changed over time to her relationship with Laurent Phillpotts.
1h11’48” Organisations such as West Indian Association of Service Personnel (WASP) and the Royal British Legion helped raise awareness of the role black people have played. Cpt. Paul Chambers and ” Rev. Marcia Dacosta talk about the hardships and homelessness faced by black people after leaving the services. Vince McBean says that as more service personnel have come from the Caribbean, WASP has to look at issues such as post-traumatic stress, disablement and economic development when they leave the services.
1h15’17” In 2002 the Commonwealth Memorial Gates were unveiled giving recognition to the 5 million volunteers from the Indian sub-continent, Africa and the Caribbean who fought for Britain. There is an annual pilgrimage to Seaford Memorial Centre in East Sussex to honour fallen black servicemen (footage of the service including Neil Flanigan). War Veteran Clinton Edwards talks about soldiers dying.
1h17’57” Remembrance Day 2012 Black ex-service men and women march together after campaigning to be included (footage). Contribution from ex-soldier Christopher Cole.
1h19’23” in 2012 WASP held its second annual March-Past in Windrush Square, Brixton (footage including speeches from Ch. Supt. Matt Bell – Lambeth Police Commander and Vince McBean). West Indian servicemen and women, veterans, serving members of the military, cadets and firefighters took part. Ex-soldier Audley Miller contributes.
1h22’29” Harold Lyons plays ‘As Time Goes By’ on the piano. Contributors talk about how things are changing between black and white cultures. Babucar Carayol, a student at the Harris Academy Peckham and other contributors, talk about people not knowing their heritage, about discrimination and about recognition of the efforts made by black people during the war.
1h25’18” Picture of Flight Sergeant James Hyde.
Credits: Marc Wadsworth (Producer); Jimmy Haisman (Director); Steve Haisman (Script); Ben Slater (Session 600) (Composer); Jimmy Haisman (Editor); Jimmy Haisman, Alan James, Harris Dickinson (Camera operator); Alan James, Harris Dickinson (Camera operator); Harris Dickinson (Camera operator); Marc Wadsworth (Narrator); Marc Wadsworth (Script); Deborah Hobson (Producer); Ngozi Ideh (Producer)
Cast: Peter Kempson
Neil Flanigan MBE
Sam King MBE (ex-mayor of Southwark)
Keywords: World War Two; military; racism; Caribbean