Tag Archive | "Stephen Bourne"

Black Poppies: Britain’s Black Community and the Great War

Stephen Bourne

Black Poppies – Britain’s Black Community and the Great War

(The History Press, £12.99)

Review by Sean Creighton 4 November 2014

‘The near-total exclusion from our history books of black servicemen in the First World War is shameful…. Some black servicemen made the ultimate sacrifice … and like Walter Tull, died on the battlefields but with the passing of time, with the exception of Tull, the contributions of black servicemen have been forgotten.’

The story of Britain’s Black Community and the First World War is told by Stephen Bourne in his book Black Poppies, which has sold 1,500 copies in the first three months since publication. It is therefore shameful that despite his past involvement with the Imperial War Museum he and others were not consulted on the new First World War exhibition. There is growing anger that it does not include any noticeable recognition of the African, Caribbean, Chinese and South Asian contribution.

Divided into three sections about the experiences of black servicemen, citizens and communities, Stephen synthesises existing knowledge with new research in a very readable style. It is not intended as a comprehensive or definitive account.  He explains that ‘more research needs to be undertaken for a fuller appreciation and understanding of the subject’, especially as David Killingray suggested back in 1986 in the War Office and Colonial papers at what is now The National Archives.  Rich in detail it is a valuable handbook for people wanting to prepare talks especially at local level as part of putting ‘Black’ into the public’s consciousness about the true nature of the First World War over the next few years. It’s not just London, Liverpool and Cardiff, but from Newcastle and North Shields down to Folkestone and Bournemouth, and across from Looe and Truro to Leamington Spa, Oxford and Northampton.

A unique section gives the responses of Patrick Vernon (Every Generation Media), Lorna Blackman (Chair, ACLA Cultural Committee, Hornsey and Hackney), Garry Stewart (ex-servicemen), and Nicholas Bailey (actor) to the following questions:

  • Why do you think the stories of African Caribbean soldiers in the First Wold War have been ignored or forgotten?
  • How/when did you find out that African Caribbeans served in the First World War?
  • Do you think that the British school curriculum should include the stories of African Caribbeans in the First World War?
  • Why do you think the British school curriculum mainly focuses on African Americans from history, such as Dr Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks?
  • What do you think we should do in 20145-2018 to ensure that young people in Britain are made aware of the important contribution made by African Caribbeans to the First World War?

These questions are a useful list to pose at events on the First World War in general and on the Black role in particular.


Stephen discusses the confusion over interpreting armed services rules about recruitment of black men and whether they could be accepted for officer training. It is clear that whatever the formal rules may have suggested, it was left to individual recruiters and officers to take the decisions.

There is a chapter reviewing the experience of the men in the British West Indies Regiment. Stephen is able to quote from the unpublished war memoir of its commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Charles Wood-Hill.  There are reminiscences of members who survived, and chapters about Herbert Morris, the shell-shocked 17 year old Jamaican shot for desertion, and the 19 headstones with the BWIR crest among the Commonwealth War Graves at Seaford Cemetery in Sussex, and on the regiment’s mutiny at Taranto in December 1918 over bad treatment while they waited demobilisation.

The Royal Flying Corps which became the Royal Air Force in April 1918 had several Indian fighter pilots and a Jamaican.

The Home Front

Stephen tells the stories of several families who lived either side of and through the War, details of black entertainers performing around Britain. Descendants of some of these families are active today in Britain. I hope that his chapter on the two composers Amanda Ira Aldridge and Avril Coleridge-Taylor will be the start of in-depth studies by Stephen.

Black Britain 1919

The third section on the Race Riots in 1919 in Liverpool, London’s East End, South Shields, Newport and Cardiff gives eye-witness accounts and details of how the local black communities reacted.

In the final chapter ‘Black Britain 1919’ Stephen summarises the picture of the Black presence, particularly in London, and its level of organisation and their activists: African Times and Orient Review, and African Telegraph, the African Students Union, and the African Progress Union.

In his Author’s Note Stephen acknowledges his debt to earlier works by Sir Harry H. Johnson, Peter Fryer, Rainer Lotz and Ian Pegg, David Killingray, Jeff Green, Ray Costello, Glenford Howe and Richard Smith, and to documentary producers Tony T. and Rebecca Goldstone AT Sweet Patootee for their film Mutiny about the BWIR.

This book is a must to have on your shelves; like Peter Fryer, Jeff Green and Stephen’s previous books it will remain a valuable reference book for years to come.


Posted in Black History Books, Black SoldiersComments (3)

The Motherland Calls – Book Launch


The Motherland Calls - Stephen Bourne

The Motherland Calls – Stephen Bourne

Dear Friends

Please find attached to this email an invitation to an event to launch my new book

The Motherland Calls- Britain’s Black Servicemen & Women 1939-45 (The History Press) at the BFI Southbank (National Film Theatre) on Friday 16 November from 2-4pm.

I will be introducing screenings of two outstanding, enjoyable and informative BBC TV programmes about Britain’s black WW2 veterans: Here Say (1990) and Reunion (1993).

Admission is free for Over 60s.

£5 for everyone else.

I will be signing copies of the book afterwards.

It would be great to see some familiar & friendly faces!

Best regards

Stephen Bourne

For additional information see the BFI’s website. Click on this link:


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Soft Lights and Sweet Music – Elisabeth Welch on Screen

Elizabeth Welch

Elizabeth Welch

Soft Lights and Sweet Music

Elisabeth Welch on Screen
with Stephen Bourne
Saturday 29 October 2011 @ 2:30pm-5.00pm
Elisabeth Welch’s biographer, Stephen Bourne, will share his personal memories of the stage and screen legend. Born in New York, Elisabeth settled in London in 1933 and became the most famous Black woman in pre-war Britain. Her 70-year career included work with Paul Robeson, Cole Porter and Derek Jarman, and she performed in West End musicals throughout. A sophisticated interpreter of popular songs, British audiences were drawn to Elisabeth’s soft, lovely voice and charming personality.
Ticket prices £8 (on the door) £6.50 (advance) £5 (concessions)
The Cinema Museum
2 Dugard Way
London SE11 4TH
020 7840 2200

Posted in African American History, Black Britain, Black History, Black History Books, Black WomenComments (0)

Black History Refreshed by 'Mother Country'

Mother Country - Stephen Bourne

Mother Country – Stephen Bourne

Black British History went through something of a coming out party in the late 1990’s and early naughties. Real interest arose in the contributions of Black people in Britain and The Internet brought forth a whole plethora of sites and snippets of information all with the aim of finally setting the history books straight.

However, during the decline of the Blair Years, the interest in Black British history seemed to wain somewhat. Even BBC History magazine failed to pay much attention to Black History Month, which comes around every October here in the U.K. It seems to have become “P.C” to discuss or to even mention Black History, and so, as a follower of Black History in Britain I was wondering where the next contributions were going to come from. I even considered writing something myself. Fear not though, you can rest easy in your beds because the London raised Author Stephen Bourne has produced yet another invaluable book which is sure to encourage fresh, new, green shoots in the research and reportage of Black British history.

Bourne who is also the Author of such beautiful resources as “Aunt Esther’s Story” and ” A Sophisticated Lady- A Celebration of Adelaide Hall” , has in his latest offering brought together a fair collection of disparate reports, articles and photographs depicting the efforts and struggles of black people on the Home Front.

“Mother Country – Britain’s Black community on the Home Front 1939-45 brings the spotlight to such personalities as Dr Harold Moody, The Peckham Doctor who founded the First Pressure group for Black people in the U.K. Another Gem, is the story of Ken “Snake Hips” Johnson, the charismatic young Guyanese Bandleader who rose to fame during the War years only to be killed by German bombs whilst performing.

This book is different to many others that have mentioned the contribution of Black people people during the Second World War because it focuses solely on individuals who were based here in Britain during the War and not those serving in the Armed Forces. Bourne doesn’t fill the book with celebrity profiles either, he unfurls the stories of ordinary working people from a range of different countries and social backgrounds.

People Such as the Nigerian Air Raid Warden E.I Ekpenyon who was so popular with Local londoners that they would visit him at his home at all hours should they need his help or advice.? Another Londoner profiled is Bourn’es own Aunt, Esther Bruce, who lived through the Blitz hardships and sewed and altered dresses for the American Actress and Singer Elizabeth Welch. Others featured in the book include , Learie Constantine, Adelaide Hall, Una Marson, and many others.

Only in recent years has the effort of non white and non British Soldiers truly been acknowledged by the mass media, and as former soldiers die with each passing year, their story is once again in danger of becoming lost.? So Stephen Bourne’s book is a timely release for historians, helping guide them to further research and giving us all a sound, eye opening introduction to the Sacrifices made by Black Britons and Commonwealth subjects in Wartime Britain. I would fully recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in Black history.? This book should grace the shelves of every black household in Britain, and then some.

“Stephen Bourne brings great natural scholarship and passion to a largely hidden story. He is highly accessible, accurate, and surprising. Mother Country is quite simply a home-grown triumph.”

Bonnie Greer, playwright and critic

Related Links

Buy Mother Country, and other black history books about By Stephen Bourne

Posted in Black Britain, Black History, Black History Books, Black People in Europe, Black WomenComments (9)

Aunt Esther's Story – Stephen Bourne

Stephen bourne and his aunt Esther

Stephen bourne and his Aunt Esther

In 1991 Stephen Bourne and his adopted aunt, Esther Bruce (1912-94), collaborated on her autobiography Aunt Esthers Story. This is now recognised as one of the first books to document the life of a Black working-class Londoner.

In 2007 Bourne assisted in the production of a short documentary, also called Aunt Esther’s Story, with no money, in his living-room, using old family photographs and a videotaped interview with Esther.

Following successful screenings at the Tate Modern, Imperial War Museum, Peckham Library and National Portrait Gallery, as well as several film festivals, Bourne has made Aunt Esther’s Story available to view in two parts on You Tube (www.youtube.com).

Just type Aunt Esther’s Story into the search box.

Later this year Bourne’s 11th book, Mother Country: Britain’s Black Community on the Home Front 1939-1945, will be published by The History Press.

Says playwright and critic Bonnie Greer: “Stephen brings great natural scholarship and passion to a largely hidden story. He is highly accessible, accurate, and surprising. You always walk away from his work knowing something that you didn’t know, that you didn’t even suspect.”

Related Links
Stephen Bourne

Posted in Black Britain, Black History Books, Black Women, Caribbean HistoryComments (0)