and academics, Stephen Bourne, Ray Costello, Linda Hervieux, Mark Johnson and Andrea Levy among others, have all made valuable contributions to uncovering the lost history of Black Service Personnel during the First and Second World Wars. However, far more work needs to be done on a national, regional and local level to uncover further information about Black men and women within British military history from all time periods. Only when we acknowledge the bravery of white and non-white service personnel together, can we truly begin to understand and appreciate the sacrifices made by all during war.
Black service personnel have had a long history in the British forces. Men such as John Lewis Friday were part of the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars. He, along with some of his white and Black counterparts, received the prestigious Waterloo Medal for their bravery on the battlefield.
During World War One, soldiers of African descent were enlisted into regiments across Britain. Even predominantly white regiments often had Black servicemen in their battalions. In 1915, the Hull Soldiers Club gathered for an awards ceremony, in which a ‘coloured soldier’ of the East Yorkshire Regiment was given a prize for bravery. Another soldier of African descent who fought as part of the East Yorkshire Regiment was Theophilus Davis. He sadly died during the conflict and is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium (we will be bringing a larger story out on Davis soon so keep checking our weekly releases).
Another soldier of African descent, Private Palmer Samson, who was born in Calabar around 1897, enlisted at Beverley during the First World War. We know very little about his life, other than that he was adopted by Susannah Wilson and lived with her at 10 Bolton Terrace, Hotham Street, Hull. Although he signed up in East Yorkshire, Samson ended up in the 1st Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment which fought on the front line in Belgium. Sadly, he was killed in action at the Battle of Broodseinde, near Ypres on 4 October 1917. It is probable that his adopted mother Susannah received Samson’s medals and memorial death plaque after the war to acknowledge his contribution to the conflict. Last month marked the centenary of his death.
During World War Two, West Indian volunteers flocked from the colonies to join the RAF as pilots and ground staff. Many of these men trained in East Yorkshire, some losing their lives here such as Byron Martin, Wilfred Octavius Dawns, Vivian Florent and Patrick Constantine Marshall (click here to read our previous blog post on war graves). However, their contributions are often overlooked. As are the roles played by women of African descent during war, such as Liverpool-born Lillian Bailey/Bader, who also joined the WAAF becoming an Aircraftswomen First class, before she was promoted to Acting Corporal.
'Lest we forget' on this Remembrance Sunday, that people of different races from across the globe have fought for Britain during various military campaigns, many paying the ultimate price. During war, they stood shoulder to shoulder fighting for this country so let us celebrate, commemorate and remember them together.
Below is a slideshow of images of some of the many Black servicemen and women who have links to the Hull and East Yorkshire region. To find out more about them click on each image to go to relevant pages on the project website.
Dr Lauren Darwin
African Stories Project Researcher.