Caribbean Women in WW2 Britain
There were plenty Caribbean Women serving in WW2. When we think of the British Armed Forces, there is often a tendency to think exclusively of men. In the past this has been largely due to the majority of Armed forces being made of almost entirely of men.
However, WW2 saw plenty of Women sign up to the British Armed Forces. The exact numbers of Caribbean women serving in the BritishArmed forces can be difficult to pin down to an exact number. However, Richard Smith, writing in the Oxford Companion to Black British History.
About 600 West Indian Women were recruited for the Auxiliary Territorial Service, arriving in Britain in the Autumn of 1943. The enlistment of these volunteers was accomplished despite official misgivings and obstruction.
Around 80- Caribbean women joined the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) and 30 joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service.(ATS)
Liverpool Born, Lilian Bader is one of three generations of her Family who Served in the British Armed Forces. Her Father had been a Merchant Seaman in the first world war. She and her brothers were separated after they were orphaned. Stephen Bourne recounts in his book ‘The Motherland Calls’, that Lillian was popular in school but found it difficult to secure fulltime work. After securing a job in the NAAFI at Catterick camp, she was ‘let go’ due to a colour bar that existed in the British Services at the start of the war. Not deterred by the initial knock back, Lillian determined to join the RAF after hearing a groups of West Indian soldiers on the Radio, say how they had been rejected from the Army, but they had better luck with the RAF.
In March 1940 Lillian was accepted into the WAAF, but found herself the only coloured person. Despite the obvious differences Lillian worked hard and soon became an ‘acting corporal’. Whilst in the Services she met her future husband, Ramsay Bader, who was of mixed race, having a White English mother and a Sierra Leoneon father.
Constance Goodridge Mark (Connie Mark)
Constance Goodridge Mark, nee Mcdonald, was another example of displayed loyalty typical of Caribbean women in WW2, wanting to serve Britain in it’s hour of need.
Born in Kingston Jamaica. She joined the British Army in 1943, serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, The Womens royal Army Corps working She later became the Senior Medical Secretary in the Royal Army Medical corps, Where she served for 10 years, working in the North Caribbean.
Many years later she took part in the “Their Past your Future” Campaign run by the Imperial War Museum.
Connie had felt that the contribution of ‘West Indians’ in WW2 was being ignored.She decided to do something to try to educate people about the contributions of Black people in the Second World War. Recounting a story about an Age Concern Meeting, she had taken some photographs of West Indian ex-servicewomen.
That caused such a stir, people said, “We never knew there were black ex-servicewomen”, and that we even came to England”.
After that she applied to the ‘Greater London Arts for a Grant. She searche ,for photographs in the Imperial War Museum and obtained others from West Indian Ex-Servicemen and Women. She put together an exhibition for the 5oth Anniversary of the end of WW2.
Listen to a clip of Constance talk
West Indian A.T.S Girls Abused
Whilst the vast majority of reported stories have a lot of positivity, There were of course negative reports to be found. In an Article Called ‘These Coloured “Intruders” ‘ The weekly magazine ‘John Bull’ reported some of the racism that Caribbean service personel had to endure whilst billeted in Britain.
Rudeness to colonial Service girls in this country is surprisingly common…
A West Indian girl in the A.T.S. was refused a new issue of shoes by her officer, who added:’At home you don’t wear shoes anyway.’ An Army Officer to a West Indian A.T.S.: ‘If I can’t get white women, i’ll something well do without.’
- Caribbean Participants in WW2 – Memorial Gates Trust
- Caribbean Aircrew in the RAF WW2 – A record of West Indian volunteers who served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War
- Black and Minority Ethnic women and the Sea in WW2 – Women’s History Network Blog
- West Indians in Britain during the Second world War – CASBAH
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