History

Children outside Holnicote House children’s home in Somerset.

Thousands of mixed-race British babies were born in World War II — and adoption by their black American fathers was blocked

Around 2.2%of the population of England and Wales is now mixed race and 3.3% are from black ethnic groups. During World War II, over 70 years ago, these figures were far lower. And so, unsurprisingly, life was difficult for the 2,000 or so mixed race babies who were born in World War II to black American GIs and white British women.

These children grew up in predominately white localities and experienced significant racism. I have interviewed 45 of these children (now in their seventies), hailing from all over England. Their story of institutional racism rivals the horrors of the appalling story of the Windrush generation.

Of the 3 million US servicemen that passed through Britain in the period 1942-45, approximately 8% were African American. The GIs were part of a segregated army and they bought their segregation policies with them, designating towns near to American bases “black” or “white” and segregating pubs and dances along color lines, with dances held for black GIs one evening and whites the next.

Inevitably, relationships formed between the black GIs and local women and some resulted in what the African American press referred to as “brown babies.” All these children were born illegitimate because the American white commanding officers refused black GIs permission to marry, the rationale being that back in the US, 30 of the then 48 states had anti-miscegenation laws.

The children grew up in predominately white areas — the sites where the GIs had been largely based: south and southwest England, South Wales, East Anglia and Lancashire, where they had little or no black or mixed-race role models. Most suffered racism, the stigma of illegitimacy and a confused identity.

Monica, one of the women I interviewed, remembers that there were no other mixed-race children in her area at all. “That was the hardest part,” she told me. “People literally would turn around if I walked into a shop and stare, it was horrible. … I was made to feel like a complete outcast, like I was contaminated.”

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