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Local Stories

Part nine; Americans in Dorset 1943-44

User Avatar Nicole Grant 22/10/2021 15:33:03
Leading Fireman

October is Black History Month, which provides us with the opportunity to learn about and recognise black history, heritage, and culture.  Find out more here; https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/ 

The Mixed Museum records: “Early in 1942 American servicemen, known as GIs, began arriving in Britain, largely there for the subsequent invasion of Normandy. Over the next three years, approximately 3 million GIs passed through the country, of whom about 8% (240,000) were African-American.

American troops were based all over the country, but most were in South and South-West England, South Wales, East Anglia, the Midlands and Lancashire.”  https://mixedmuseum.org.uk/brown-babies/black-gis-in-britain/ 

The Americans came to Dorset in late 1943 and by “1944 it is estimated that around 80,000 American soldiers lived in Dorset whilst practising for the D Day landings.  Around 10% of them were African American.  They still fought in segregated units so coming to Dorset and being allowed to mix with the locals brought a sense of freedom many had not experienced before.” https://deed.org.uk/deed-key-figures-in-dorsets-black-history 

Throughout 1944 more and more American troops moved into Poole.  A list of Black Army/ Air Corps Units stationed in the United Kingdom tells us that 321 Port Company (Transportation Corps) were based in Poole (http://lestweforget.hamptonu.edu/page.cfm?uuid=9FEC3380-EB73-0467-07096C16514ECAC4 )  Poole and World War II by Beamish, Bennett and Hillier reveals that the US Army Transportation Corps were based on Poole Quay between the High Street and Baiter. This is where they were stockpiling rations and ammunition for the invasion. They also made their headquarters in Hill Street.  

“The American Red Cross opened a canteen for their servicemen in the old Guildhall in Market Street, which had been the Council’s meeting place until 1932.  The aroma of the doughnuts the Americans provided there attracted many Poole children!  Showers for the men were installed in the basement of the building.” (p187)

The US personnel in Poole soon became familiar with many local families, they “were initiated into the mysteries of the British teatime and became regular members of congregations in the churches and chapels in Poole.  For the Americans these were the chances to escape from the discomfort of impoverished camps.  For the British these were opportunities to voice unspoken thanks to their visitors.” (p189)

For the Black GIs, who were still segregated in the USA, coming to Dorset allowed them to mix with the community and gave them a new sense of freedom. (https://deed.org.uk/deed-key-figures-in-dorsets-black-history )  Inevitably relationships developed between the Americans and local women.  Sadly if women went on to have children because of their relationship, they often faced criticism and disapproval.  Additionally, “Every American serviceman had to receive permission to marry from his commanding officer (who in the UK were nearly all white) and avoidance of this permission was a court-martial offence. But for a black GI wanting to marry a white British woman, permission was invariably refused.” (https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/brown-babies-second-world-war/ )  This led to a generation of children not knowing their own fathers and heritage, to learn more about these moving stories visit the Mixed Museum https://mixedmuseum.org.uk/brown-babies/ 

Read the National Archives blog https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/brown-babies-second-world-war/ 

And explore the Deed website https://deed.org.uk/deed-key-figures-in-dorsets-black-history 

Image- Leading Fireman (Albert A. Clapp) instructing US Army Transportation Corps in fire pump operation

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