Review of the Battle of Bamber Bridge 80th Anniversary Commemorative Event

IBAR (Institute for Black Atlantic Research), UCLAN. Friday 23rd 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.

In June 1943, African American troops based at Bamber Bridge mutinied against the Jim Crow segregation conditions imposed in the European theatre. They found support from local residents. This international symposium was part of a commemorative weekend of events for the 80th anniversary of the mutiny on 23-25 June 2023, and stems from a project honouring their joint fight against racism in collaboration with the Embassy of the United States, Ministry of Defence, the US Defense Department, South Ribble Borough Council, Studio Canal and Preston Black History Group.

Thanks to Studio Canal for allowing us to show the film in Bamber Bridge on Thursday 22nd June. Review here

The commemorative event took place at the University of Central Lancashire Fylde Road Preston PR1 2HE

The speakers for the symposium, left to right, Aaron Snipe (Spokesperson for US Embassy), Prof Gary Younge (Keynote Speaker, Guardian Journalist, University of Manchester), Clinton Smith (Chair Preston Black History Group), Prof Alan Rice UCLAN, IBAR), Councillor Chris Lomax (Mayor of South Ribble), Jemma Rodgers (producer ‘Railway Children Return’)

Opening by Aaron Snipe, Spokesperson of the American Embassy. Aaron explained why the story of the Battle of Bamber Bridge resonates with him, personally, and told us about hearing stories from his Grandparents of their experiences of segregation and racism in an American Army base in the US South. He heard about the story of Bamber Bridge through Jemma Rodgers film ‘Railway Children Return’ and came up to visit in Nov 2022. He immediately ‘got’ why we all feel this is an important story to retell.

Aaron Snipe (Spokesperson, US Embassy)

Welcome and intro talk by Professor Alan Rice. Alan has been researching the facts of the battle for many years and related the information he has found from the original US Court Martial transcripts from 1943. Notably, the description of the uniform of a white MP being splattered with beer taking more space than the tragic death of Private William Crossland, and the description of the Black US Troops as being ‘hysterical’ when a group of Black US Servicemen, during the battle, rescued and took an injured White US Soldier to a nearby hospital. Not the actions of ‘hysterical’ men.

Prof Alan Rice (UCLAN, IBAR)

Short talks by Chris Lomax, Mayor of South Ribble, who described first hearing the story as a child in Bamber Bridge as if it was almost a ghost story. Finding out the facts after he became a politician in South Ribble (which Bamber Bridge is part of) prompted his commitment to the installation last year of a permanent memorial and garden outside Ye Olde Hob Inn in Bamber Bridge where the events in 1943 began.

Councillor Chris Lomax (Mayor of South Ribble)

Clinton Smith, Chair of Preston Black History Group, told us of his four-decade long relationship with this story after noticing what he first described as “very large termite holes” in a building at the corner of Station Rd and Mounsey Rd (where the US Camp was situated) in Bamber Bridge. “Nay lad! Those are bullet holes from the Battle of Bamber Bridge” explained his companion. The story haunted him for years and wouldn’t let him rest without bringing the facts to a wider audience and working to complete the jigsaw through talking to local people and working with Prof Alan Rice.

Clinton Smith (PBHG) entertains us with his anecdotes

Jemma Rodgers, Producer of the ‘Railway Children Return’. Jemma told us of her journey of discovery in melding the true events into a fictional updating of the story of the Railway Children by E Nesbit. The film is set in Yorkshire during WW2, where a group of young children evacuated to a small village encounter a young African American soldier (Abe) who, like them, is far away from his home. The film is based loosely on the real-life incident in Bamber Bridge in 1943 which left one soldier dead.

Review of the BBB 80th film showing here

Jemma Rodgers (producer ‘Railway Children Return’)

Danny Lyons, Director, ‘Community Memories of the Battle of Bamber Bridge’. Danny heard his Grandparents stories of the events 1943 and vowed to find out more. He collected interviews with eye witnesses, Bamber Bridge people (Briggers), some of whom are no longer with us. His film was shown in the ‘Hob’ during the day long festival on 24th June organized by South Ribble Borough Council with their partners PBHG and UCLAN

Prof Alan Rice listens to Danny Lyons (Brigger and director ‘Community Memories of the Battle of Bamber Bridge’)

Keynote talk by Guardian journalist, author and academic Professor Gary Younge, University of Manchester who has just won The Orwell Prize for Journalism 2023. Gary gave us a much-needed context for the events in Bamber Bridge, his academic research on the experiences of Black US troops in Europe during WW2 has yielded many instances of fellowship between working people and Black US troops in many European Countries. But the relationships are complex. He showed us photos from the liberation of Paris which was largely accomplished by Black troops – the Black troops were ‘hidden’ by the white authorities and only one Black Resistance fighter can be seen in the press photos from that time. Gary explained that although ordinary people responded well to the Black Troops, the racism of European Colonialism was akin to that of the US Jim Crowe laws and segregation. The current racism of the US and the UK are just different dialects of the same prejudice.

Prof Gary Younge (Guardian Journalist, University of Manchester) with Prof Alan Rice
Prof Gary Younge shows us some of the best photobombing ever!

Q&A chaired by Professor Alan Rice

Ros Martin (writer, artist (pavement chalking) and archivist of black and working class histories) asks Gary Younge a question. With Sylius Toussaint and Bernie Velvick from PBHG

Screening of ‘Invisible Warriors’ documentary by Gregory Cooke. Gregory showed us a photo of his mother who was a ‘war worker’ in Washington DC. She travelled from her home in the South of the US, and, along with 600,000 other Black women, took the place of a male worker who went to fight in the war. Black women workers often took on the heaviest and most dangerous work – in gunpowder production and other heavy industries. They also faced racism on a daily basis. These women’s contribution to the ‘war effort’ has been largely forgotten. Gregory’s film allowed us to hear their testimonies in their own voices.

Prof Gregory Cooke shows us a picture of his mother.

Q&A with Gregory Cooke and Professor Alan Rice

The whole event culminated in a reception at the rooftop terrace of UCLAN’s new Student Centre where ther were many passionate conversations continuing to explore the issues raised by the symposium.

Symposium speakers with members of PBHG and other audience members

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

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