On the evening of June 24, 1943, an event took place in the town of Bamber Bridge, just south of Preston. On that day, African-American soldiers―supported by their British friends―were engaged in a confrontation against their white American comrades. This unfortunate event would come to be known as the “Battle of Bamber Bridge”.
Prelude to Battle
With the World War Two in full swing, Hitler’s Germany had failed to take Britain, and its invasion of Russia met with disaster. From 1942, troops from various allied countries had begun arriving Britain in preparation for D-day (the famous Battle of Normandy). These were lodged in military bases set up in many places in the country.
Among the American troops that arrived Britain were also African-Americans soldiers, some of which belonged to the 1511 Quartermaster Truck Regiment, a logistics unit for the U.S. 8th Army Air Force Station 569, based in Bamber Bridge in 1943.
This truck regiment were decamped next to the 234th U.S. Military Police Company tasked with maintaining order within the army. As with most black troops, the Quartermasters were mostly relegated to non-combat roles, mostly involving manual labour, and while they were segregated by law from white troops back home in the U.S., such laws encouraging segregation did not exist in Britain.
This meant that the British openly welcomed black servicemen, more so, singing their praises above white soldiers who were deemed less-polite and less-mannered.
Not content with the way most British people treated blacks, the American MPs used their office to try to keep black troops segregated, and on June 24, 1943, the stage was set for the Battle at Bamber Bridge.
On the night of June 24, several African-American soldiers were drinking with off-duty British troops and locals at the Ye Olde Hob Inn, on Church Road, Bamber Bridge. They were discovered by two passing MPs who tried to arrest one of the African-American soldier, Private Eugene Nunn for a minor uniform offence, sparking an altercation between the black soldiers and their British friends on one side, and on the other side the MP’s, in which Private Lynn M. Adams brandished a bottle at the MPs in the midst of a fistfight which forced the MPs to retreat.
Later that night, the black soldiers making their way back to base, were intercepted by the MPs, now with reinforcements. Matters escalated, and Private Adams was shot in the neck by an MP. Further shots were fired which dispersed the crowd.
While rumours spread among black soldiers that they were being targeted by their white comrades―who decided to arm themselves, they were calmed down after the unit’s only black officer, Lieutenant Edwin D. Jones, convinced the men that their white senior officers would see that justice is done.
By Midnight, however, the MPs driving several jeeps, had arrived in the area with a machine-gun-fitted armoured car. This convinced most of the black soldiers that the MPs were indeed going to kill them prompting them to break into supply stores and arm themselves with rifles.
It is not exactly known who fired first at the other. While Dominic Moffit of LancsLive, writes that “British officers claimed that the MPs then ambushed the soldiers and a fire fight began in the night”, Harold Pollins writing for the BBC, on the other hand affirms that British residents testified that there was firing that night in Bamber Bridge and it became known that shots were fired at the MPs who returned fire. Locals were warned to stay indoors as the troops exchanged fie till around 4am on 25th. There was, however, few casualties; one black soldier, Private William Crossland was killed and seven others―including at least two MPs―injured.
In October 1943, around 32 African-American soldiers were found guilty at a court martial of various crimes relating to mutiny, seizing of arms, firing upon officers, and so on. Due to support from British public, and the obvious mitigating factors of racism from the MPs, their sentences were reduced; most of them were back on duty within a year.
Following the event, General Ira Eaker of the Eight Air Force made series of decisions which helped to improve the morale of black troops sent in the UK. Among these decisions was his combination of the black trucking units into a single special command. He also had the ranks of this command purged of inexperienced and racist officers, as well as making sure that the MP patrols were racially integrated.
Although there were several more minor conflicts between black and white American troops in Britain during the war (such as the February 1944 there was serious fighting between black and white troops at Leicester), the battle was somewhat of a turning point for the Civil Rights Movement.
However, racial segregation would remain in the U.S. until in 1948 when racial segregation in the U.S. armed forces was officially abolished.
In June 2013, an anniversary symposium was held at the University of Central Lancashire. This included a screening of the 2009 documentary ‘Choc’late Soldiers from the USA’ to commemorate the Battle of Bamber Bridge.
(By, Ejiofor Ekene Maduabuchi)
OTHER SOURCES OF AUTHORS INFORMATION
Nalty, B. C. (1986, January 1). Strength for the Fight: A History of Black Americans in the Military. New York: The Free Press.
Nielsen, E. A. (2020, July 6). The Riot of Bamber Bridge (1943). Retrieved August 10, 2020 from Black Past: https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/events-global-african-history/the-riot-of-bamber-bridge-1943/
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