Prof Gregory Cooke introduces his documentary

Review of ‘Choc’late Soldiers from the USA’ – Documentary Film Screening

for the Battle of Bamber Bridge 80th Anniversary, Sat 24th June 2023

By Bernie Velvick, Preston Black History Group. Photos by Tony Maiden, Preston Black History Group.

Visit our Battle of Bamber Bridge webpage to find coverage of the rest of the anniversary weekend events

A screening of Gregory Cooke’s 2008 film ‘Choc’late Soldiers from the USA’, about Black American Soldiers in WW2, some of which was shot in Bamber Bridge and includes interviews with former residents of Bamber Bridge. The film was introduced by its’ producer, Gregory Cooke, who joined us from America for the celebrations of the 80th anniversary of the Battle.

The film tells the story of 140,00 Black American soldiers and thousands of British civilians who crossed a racial divide to forge an unexpected bond. While serving in a segregated military, Black men and women did much of the U. S. Army’s “heavy lifting” by day, and introduced the British population to jazz, jitterbugging, and Black American culture by night. For the first time, Black American soldiers experienced what it is like to be treated as equals and as Americans.

Gregory’s introduced the film by sharing his journey of discovery after experiencing what he describes as a ‘Divine calling’ to visit Bastogne in Belgium where, in the WW2 war museum, he first saw pictures of Black American Servicemen who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, one of the most significant engagements of US troops in WW2. His journey of discovery led him to seek out African American men and women who served in the US armed forces in WW2 and make this film that tells their stories in their own voices. He also discovered the impact of the largely positive experiences that Black troops had with the white locals around the camps. This was the first time many of the soldiers had been treated with respect and camaraderie by white people. It made them question their experience of fighting Fascism in Europe while experiencing a lack of human rights and the effects of ‘Jim Crow’ segregation at home in the US. Many went on to active campaigning for equal rights during the decades following WW2 after they returned home. It can be said that the experiences of Black Soldiers in Europe had a direct effect on the development of the US civil rights movement.

Gregory visited Bamber Bridge to interview local residents about their experiences of the Black soldiers and the events of the Battle of Bamber Bridge. He was able to locate one former serviceman in Colorado who had taken part in the Battle. He would not talk about his experience presumably since the battle led to many servicemen being court-martialed and branded as mutineers. This must still be a source of pain to those who took part, a situation that we would like to be part of remedying in the future. We hope for a reassessment of the Battle of Bamber Bridge that recognises the poor leadership from the white officers, the white MP’s harassment of black troops for minor transgressions, and the many compassionate and heroic acts of the black servicemen during the battle which will put their contribution to the fight against fascism in its rightful place.

Many audience members found the ‘Choc’late Soldiers’ documentary very moving. After the film screening there was a Q&A session with Gregory Cooke that stimulated some thoughtful reflection.

Listen to Gregory Cooke’s words here

Interview with Prof Gregory S Cooke, Film maker and educator

Visit our Battle of Bamber Bridge webpage to find coverage of the rest of the anniversary weekend events

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