Posted on June 26, 2023

UK Village Marks Struggle Against US Army Racism in World War II

Danica Kirka, Associated Press, June 24, 2023

The village of Bamber Bridge in northwestern England is proud of the blow it struck against racism in the U.S. military during World War II.

When an all-Black truck regiment was stationed in the village, residents refused to accept the segregation ingrained in the U.S. Army. Ignoring pressure from British and American authorities, pubs welcomed the GIs, local women chatted and danced with them, and English soldiers drank alongside men they saw as allies in the war against fascism.

But simmering tensions between Black soldiers and white military police exploded on June 24, 1943, when a dispute outside a pub escalated into a night of gunfire and rebellion that left Private William Crossland dead and dozens of soldiers from the truck regiment facing court martial. When Crossland’s niece learned about the circumstances of her uncle’s death from an Associated Press reporter, she called for a new investigation to uncover exactly how he died.

The community has chosen to focus on its stand against segregation as it commemorates the 80th anniversary of what’s now known as the Battle of Bamber Bridge and America reassesses its past treatment of Black men and women in the armed forces.

“I think maybe it’s a sense of pride that there was no bigotry towards (the soldiers),” said Valerie Fell, who was just 2 in 1943 but whose family ran Ye Olde Hob Inn, the 400-year-old thatched-roof pub where the conflict started. {snip}

That was in stark contrast to the treatment Black soldiers received in the wartime Army, which was still segregated by law.


Black soldiers accounted for about 10% of the American troops who flooded into Britain during the war. Serving in segregated units led by white officers, most were relegated to non-combat roles such as driving trucks that delivered supplies to military bases.

U.S. authorities tried to extend those policies beyond their bases, asking pubs and restaurants to separate the races.

Bamber Bridge, then home to about 6,800 people, wasn’t the only British community to resist this pressure. In a country that was almost entirely white, there was no tradition of segregation, and after four years of war people welcomed any help they received from overseas.

What’s different about Bamber Bridge is the desire of local people to preserve this story and pass it on to others, said Alan Rice, co-director of the Institute for Black Atlantic Research at the University of Central Lancashire.

“If we’re going to have a fight against racism or fascism, these are the stories we need to talk about,” Rice said. “If you’re fighting fascism, which these people were, it’s ludicrous, absolutely ludicrous, that the U.S. Army (were) encouraging a form of fascism — segregation.”


Last year, the local government council installed a plaque outside the Hob Inn that outlines the community’s relationship with the soldiers, the violence and its aftermath.


Despite their friendships with the GIs, villagers weren’t able to head off the violence when Black soldiers, frustrated by their treatment and angry about news of race riots in Detroit, faced off with military police outfitted with batons and sidearms.

On that hot June night, Private Eugene Nunn was sitting at the Hob Inn bar when a white military police officer threatened to arrest him for wearing the wrong uniform. British soldiers and civilians intervened.


When Nunn left the pub, the police were waiting. Tempers rose. A bottle smashed against the windshield of the police Jeep. Things escalated from there.

It wasn’t until 4 a.m. that order was restored. Military authorities sought severe penalties to head off unrest at other bases.

Thirty-seven Black soldiers were charged with mutiny, riot and unlawful possession of weapons, and some 30 were convicted on some or all of the charges. Most received sentences of between three and 15 years in prison, combined with loss of pay and dishonorable discharges. As the allies prepared for the D-Day landings, many of the sentences were shortened to time served so the men could be cycled back into the war effort.


Investigators placed most of the blame for the violence on the Black soldiers, describing them as a “mob” that was “determined on revenge at any cost,” according to reports submitted during the court martial proceedings. {snip}