Bodmin Keep – Cornwall’s Army Museum is embarking on the second phase of a Second World War research project with a callout for members of the public with recollections about African American soldiers in Cornwall during the Second World War.
So far, the project has unearthed information about the extensive military camp which was home to US 29th Infantry Division GIs from 1943 to 1944 on what is now Bodmin’s Walker Lines Industrial Estate. It was while looking for images of the US military in Bodmin at Kresen Kernow, (Cornwall’s Archive) that researcher Charlotte Marchant uncovered photographs taken by freelance photographer George Ellis of groups of young African American GIs based at a camp in Grampound Road.
The US Army was racially segregated until 1948 and controversially, this practice continued while American troops were stationed in Britain. An estimated 240,000 African American GIs were based in England between 1942-1945 but there is scant information about the locations of the camps for Black GIs. However, in one notable incident on September 26, 1943, racial tensions between American soldiers stationed in Launceston erupted in gunfire. The event, labelled a ‘wild west’ mutiny by the tabloids, became front page news in Great Britain and the USA and is described by Kate Werran in her book, ‘An American Uprising in Second World War England: Mutiny in the Duchy’.
Inspired by Kate’s fieldwork, Bodmin Keep – Cornwall’s Army Museum would like to understand where the Black GIs camps were located and would like to hear from anyone with information and recollections that could help. Bodmin Keep will also be holding an exhibition created by Lucy Bland called ‘Brown Babies’ during February and March. The title comes from the name given to British mixed-race babies by the African-American Press and the exhibition gives voice to some of the 2000 mixed-race children born from relationships that formed during World War II.
There will also be an opportunity to hear Dr Lucy Bland, Professor of Social and Cultural History at Anglia Ruskin University talk about her research and book ‘Brown Babies’, that led to many of these personal stories being uncovered, in an online webinar and study day at Bodmin Keep.
Dr Lucy Bland says, ‘since the book was released in March 2019, more and more people have come forward to tell their stories.
‘‘We hope that the exhibition and study day helps the conversation continue in Cornwall.’ Both events will be co-presented with Dr Chamion Caballero, Director of The Mixed Museum, a digital museum and archive that contributes to widening knowledge about Black and ethnic minority British history, and hosts the online version of the ‘Brown Babies’ research.
Helen Bishop-Stephens, Director of Bodmin Keep says of the exhibition and events, ‘I’m delighted that through this project we’re able to share the work of The Mixed Museum and bring different perspectives of life during World War II to new audiences.’
The webinar takes place from 11am-12 noon on Saturday, March 11 online and the free Study Day is on Saturday, March 25 from 11am to 4pm. Tickets for both are bookable on the Bodmin Keep website: www.bodminkeep.org.uk/events