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DirtyDick

Black soldiers in WW1 British Army

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DirtyDick

Hello All

I've come across a picture of some Hampshire Regiment men at Browndown Camp in Gosport 1918.

Among the eight or so pictured, there is a black soldier wearing the Hamps Reg uniform. In the caption accompanying the photograph the author makes no special reference to his presence, even though it is the first such photograph I've seen. I've always assumed that during this period non-white colonial troops were not integrated with white soldiers (such as happened with the French Vietnamese and Senegalese units).

Would this chap be a part of the West Indies or King's African Rifles seconded to the Hampshires (such as we now have Gurkhas in the Paras and Airborne Div.) to replace casualties at this late stage of the war; or could he have been directly enlisted into the Regiment - i.e been one of the few black families then in the UK?

On a related point, was there an official 'colour bar' in the British Army at this time? (I have heard that some regiments kept this in place until the Race Relations Acts of the mid-60s.)

Bearing in mind that casual prejudicial rascism was aarguably a much firmer part of society during this period, does anyone know of black servicemen in line regiments other than colonial regiments?

Thanks

Richard

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Annette Burgoyne

Hi Richard

i.e been one of the few black families then in the UK

I think the coloured community in the UK at the time was on a larger scale then many people today think.

I have two photos in my book with coloured chaps who served in K.S.L.I. and there was a photo in my local paper the other week which shows a group of K.S.L.I. lads at the Isle of Man (another forum member as posted the photo under the title one for Annette) and one of them is a coloured lad.

Annette

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DirtyDick

Annette, thanks for the posting and the information regarding the KSLI.

I recall reading that there were significant (for their day) non-white communities within the larger cities and more particularly the port towns; I suppose - and this is purely supposition - largely as a result of Black, Asian and Chinese merchant seamen settling in the area with their families.

Does anyone know if a book or other work concentrates on this overlooked area?

It would be interesting to see whether there were larger contingents of black soldiers serving in county regiments with prominent mercantile ports (Hampshire - Southampton; Liverpool, Bristol etc.) and what, if any, official policy existed in relation to their employment.

Richard

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P.B.

Hi Richard

A couple of instances of black soldiers in British regiments in WWI that I have come across:

In "Tyneside Irish" John Sheen quotes a veteran who remembered several black soldiers serving with his service battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers. I don't have the exact reference to hand, but recall that the black soldiers were nicknamed "smoked Geordies" by some of the soldiers -presumably they were from places in the North East like South Shields, which even pre-WWI had a sizeable black community. I don't remember the quote exactly, but the veteran remembered that some of the other soldiers did give them a hard time, a fact that he now felt ashamed about.

In one of the Osprey books on the British Army in WWI there is a photo of a recruitment party in Tiger Bay, Cardiff, which shows a number of black soldiers.

I'm also certain that both the Durham Light Infantry and Shropshire Light Infantry Museums have/had WWI period photos of black soldiers serving in their units.

As an aside, there was at least one black soldier serving in the Imperial German Army in WWI (as opposed to serving in their native regiments) Sergeant Major Tambo served in a cavalry unit before and during WWI, gaining the Iron Cross first and second class. I believe he survived the war.

Hope this has been of some interest, all the best

Paul.

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DirtyDick

Excellent stuff, many thanks Paul.

It makes you wonder how well known these instances are - have you ever seen even one black face among the soldier-extras on a typical WW1 film? I would have thought that given the politics of many in the t.v. industry they would jump at the chance, so presumably they - and by implication many of their advisors - are unaware of this important contribution?

Richard

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DirtyDick

Have just found an interesting article about one Walter Tull, a British-born professional footballer who joined the Middlesex Regiment in 1914 and was later commissioned (apparently the first black British Army officer) as a platoon commander, dying at the Front in 1918.

The article also states that Military Regs. of 1914 prohibited the commissioning of black soldiers.

Here's the link:

http://www.blackpresence.co.uk/pages/sport/tull.htm

Richard

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Bob Coulson

Richard,

Walter Tull has cropped up quite a few times on the forum.

Do a search and you will find some interesting stuff.

Bob.

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DirtyDick

Thanks Bill, I'll have a look.

Richard

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Patrick ODwyer

Although regulations have often been quoted as saying they fobade Black officers in the British Army (such as Tull) my reading has always interpreted it that it referred to foreign born nationals (including Black people) but did not apply to British born subjects such as Tull - so he wasn't in fact excluded as has sometimes been maintained. I would be happy to hear other views on this. Also I can't imagine any other action could be legal in 1914-1918.

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Guest Brummy

Hi,

Radio 4 broadcast a play last year about the football career and promotion in the army of Tull. I remember it was very good but cannot remember the name of the Play. It also included parts about his brother who became a dentist. Considering the excepted level of racisme in society in those days these Brothers acheived quite a lot.

Brum

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P.B.

Hi Richard

Interesting point about the representation of black servicemen in the British Army on TV and film...without wishing to move this subject too off-topic, I recall that a couple of the soldiers in D Coy of the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry who took part in the gliderborne assault on the Orne River on D-Day were black ( I remember reading this in Ambrose's "Pegasus Bridge"). How many black faces in the recreation of this event in "The Longest Day"? Yup, you guessed it.....although, I think some black US troops can be glimpsed in the background towards the end of this movie. (More to do with the use of certain US units as extras, rather than attempt at balance, I think...)

Like so many WWI subjects, the topic of black British soldiers is yet another case of there being an interesting subject for a film/documentary just waiting to be made.

All the best

Paul.

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DirtyDick

Paul

Strangely enough, I read Ambrose's Arnhem book a year or so ago. Although it had slipped my mind when I raised this issue, I do now recall it being mentioned - and it came very much to my surprise since it was (I think) the first such reference I had seen. (Frost was a remarkable man, what with all that PT and early morning starts. I saw a standard Normandy medal group identified to one of his men sold recently for about £1500.

Mind, I believe that the Americans had an official colour bar until 1948, relegating black troops to logistics (much as the South Africans did; and much to the chagrin of many of their leaders they ended up serving alongside Indian units in Italy in WW2!). Strange as it may seem, I also recall hearing at some point during my studies that there were several black soldiers fighting during the English Civil War.

I've seen a few documentaries about Empire soldiers, but none dealing with such men serving in British regiments during WW1. It would make an interesting topic.

Cheers

Richard :)

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tintin1689

The German soldier's name was Sambo. Vize-Wachtmeister Elo Sambo of the Guard Hussars of Potsdam (born 1885 died 1933). He continued to serve in the 4th Cavalry Regiment of the Reichswehr, also at Potsdam. He was well known as the kettle drummer in the mounted band. The forum won't let me post the picture.

There was also Gefrieter Josef Mambow who was kettledrummer in the Horse Grenadiers (3rd Dragoons) who joined the army in 1909.

The tallest man in the 1st Foot Guards was a Moroccan

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DirtyDick

Cheers for the information, tintin1689.

That seems especially surprising since I did hear that many of the German soldiers found it distasteful that the British and French should use their black and Asian imperial troops against them; commonly referring to black soldiers as 'Boots' and often would not accept them as prisoners (which I believe was a mutual trait).

Richard

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BeppoSapone

Then there was "Jimmy Durham", although he died in 1910 he was both black and in the British Army. See here:

http://www.durham.gov.uk/recordoffice/usp....+-+Introduction

Also, many army bandsmen were black, going back to the 1800s at least. As late as WW2 my fathers unit, KRRC, had a black bandsman. He was later on tv as a bandleader and was called Geoff Love.

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BeppoSapone

Black General?????

Brigadier-General Horace Somerville Sewell (1991-1953), who commanded 1st Cavalry Brigade from April 1918 until the end of the war, had the nickname of "Sambo" - see here

http://www.firstworldwar.bham.ac.uk/nicknames/sewell.htm

Anyone know more of his family background? It seems that there was a West Indian connection.

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GavinH

Just thought that I'd mention that I have a postcard showing an officer and 34 men of the Royal Artillery, informally dressed and armed with shovels and axes, which clearly shows a black soldier in the unit. If anyone wants a scan, let me know.

Regards

Gavin

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Paul Reed

Gavin - I would very much like a copy of the photo you mention.

There is an article coming up in the next issue of BBC History magazine on Black soldiers in WW1 by a John Ellis - I must say he is not someone I have come across in the context of this subject, and I look forward to reading it.

The experience of Black soldiers in the British Army in WW1 was many and varied; some light skinned got in, others more 'coloured' rejected - the army never really knew what to do with them. The numbers may well have been great; there were 20,000 Black men of military age in Liverpool alone by the close of the Great War.

Some years ago I wrote an article on this for 'Stand To!', the journal of the Western Front Association, as I had completed my MA thesis on this.

If you have any specific questions let me know.

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Tom Morgan

I'm sure there was at least one black soldier in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment during the Great War, and that was the great Randolph Turpin's father. He came from British Guyana, was gassed during the war and died when Randolph was nine.

Tom

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Paul Reed

You are correct; this man did serve, but I don't have my notes to say which regiment or unit for sure.

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Tom Morgan
You are correct; this man did serve, but I don't have my notes to say which regiment or unit for sure.

I'm desperately trying to remember his name, but all the Leaminton-ites who might know are, presumably on the Verdun visit?

Tom

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tintin1689

Dear "DirtyDick",

Soldiers like Vize-Wachtmeister sambo and Corporal Mambow must have been very rare.

The Hitlerites hated black people even worse than Jews so much so that they tried not only to destroy the black community, but also all records pertaining to its existence. Estimates of the numbers of black people in Germany in 1933 vary between 800 and 24,000. However, there was an influx of black people to Germany in the interwar period. Ironically black artists went to Germany from the US to escape racism.

All we can know for certain is that about 200 black people who had attained SNCO/Warrant Officer status in the Schutztruppe or Police or equivalent grades in the Civil Service (and their dependants) settled in Germany. Ebo Sambo would have been this type of man.

The majority of German soldiers would never have met a black person and if they had he would have been a quite well educated authority figure.

The Senegalese troops of the French were very different. Many were rough bush Africans, some of whom had only been under French rule for 10 years or so. Their French officers sometimes encouraged their fierceness (see "The Conquest of the Sahara" a very good book). Their long "coup-coup" knifes were highly feared.They were n't integrated into the French Army. Senegalese (which included all West Africa, not just Senegal proper) battalions were attached to the Colonial Regiments (long service French troops recruited for service in the colonies). These battalions served on the front in the summer and went to the South for labouring duties and training in the winter. Africans who were "assimilated" could serve in the Colonial proper. They had to be either well educated or come from the old Senegalese towns that had been French the longest and had representatives in the Chamber of Deputies.

Moroccan Troops were also disliked for wildness, but France kept the wildest in Morocco in the Great War unlike WW2. German soldiers had faced the Algerians in 1870. French propoganda on the fierceness of their African soldiers was a two edged sword for the ordinary tiralleur

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DirtyDick

Thanks for the information everyone. These (and hopefully more) cases are all excellent stuff.

:)

Richard

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gord97138

Here's an Article on American Blacks in WW1.

gordon

Black Soldiers in WWI

When the United States entered the war in April 1917, over 400,000 African Americans would serve in thisconflict, more than double the number that had served in the Civil War. The United States mobilized to meet thedemands of its first global war, but the reception it gave its black soldiers and sailors was very hostile.

The Buffalo Soldiers were exiled to posts in the far West and did not see combat. Black volunteers and draftees, enlisted and officers encountered pervasive and unrelenting racial discrimination, official reluctance to fully train, equip, and use them and black women's attempts to offer their services as nurses were refused.

The majority of blacks rallied to the nation's defense. And even-though the majority of black men were relegated to the Services of Supply, mainly serving as laborers and stevedores, they were active combat units like the 369th Infantry Regiment, a National Guard outfit also known as Harlem Hellfighters ; they were the first Americans, black or white, toreach the combat zone in France, the first to cross the Rhine River in the offensive against Germany;and, the Harlem Hell-fighters were in continuous combat for 191 days, longer than any otherAmerican Unit.

One of the men of the 369th, Sgt. Henry Johnson, became the first American to win the FrenchWar Cross, the Croix de Guerre. In May 1918, Johnson and Pvt. Needham Roberts valiantlyfought off a vicious attack by a large German raiding party that appears tohave numbered over 30 men. They killed at lease four Germans andwounded ten. Johnson is buried at Arlington National Cemetary.

It was this same spirit and valor that allowed Doughboys and sailorsto withstand the racist policies of the American military and return to make"America safe for Democracy."

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paul guthrie

The treatment of blacks in the US Army was a disgrace. THE book is The Unknown Soldiers by Henri & Barbusse.

Every time this comes up I tell about Lt Col Charles Young of Lexington, Kentucky. He was the 3d black to graduate from W Point, only 1 on active duty 1917. He was 3d on list to be promoted to Colonel. US Army went from 120000 to 4000000 from 17 to 18 & officer promotion was real rapid. He would be expected to make Brigadier General at the least. Complaints were made and it appears they reached Woodrow Wilson, not a progressive on race. He was given a physical & discharged

for blood pressure tho his own MD said it was normal. To demonstrate fitness he rode a horse from Ohio to Washington but was discharged. A park here is named for him.

After the racist British turned down US black combat men, they went to the French and performed very well, used French equipment & ate French ration but we insisted they not get the wine, were given extra sugar instead. We knew they would rape & rob if given wine.

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